We’ve never met but I’m pretty sure I saw you as a baby at least once or twice. I know that isn’t exactly grounds for feeling qualified to give someone a pep talk but bear with me. This might all make sense in a moment.
You see Ryker, I was a student at good ol’ Grand Island Senior High when your dad got his career started a year or so before you were born. Can’t recall the specifics of why, but way back then, the only class he “taught” was afternoon study hall in the cafeteria.
Your dad wouldn’t have been much older than you are now and he carried himself with a swagger far beyond that of someone whose job description broke down to sit in a room and make sure no one gets stabbed or pregnant.
He may have also been an assistant football coach back then too but either way, as a former jock himself, he took an instant liking to the current jocks in the room. As a member of the tennis team, I was not worthy of jock status and was treated with the same disdain as the motorheads, geeks, sluts, bloods, wastoids, dweebies, and dickheads who filled the cafeteria.
As one of several highly observant Grade A smart asses in the room, we didn’t take kindly to this double standard. Dude was in our world now and to us he was nothing more than fresh meat. A rookie who needed to be broken. So we let it rip with all the Barney Fife jokes and assorted heckles our 15-year-old minds could come up with. One of our favorite gags was to see who could do the most blatant impression of your dad’s pigeon-toed strut and not get busted. Oh what a fun gauntlet it was to walk up to him pretending to be him and ask for a hall pass to use the restroom. If things went a step too obvious, you’d get to see him later in detention.
He supervised that too.
There’s no denying that we were huge little assholes back then but when you put a few years between things (along with some introspective and enlightening psychotherapy) it’s clear we were just slightly misguided dipshits in need of positive support and some ADHD meds.
Anyway, your dad was able to welcome a few of us study hall knuckleheads to his world that summer as the head coach of our American Legion Baseball team. GI High didn’t have a team yet so that was our equivalent to getting to play high school ball.
After tryouts ended and the roster was announced your dad summoned me into a dingy storage room underneath the Ryder Park grandstand. While I had made the team, he told me straight up I should never expect to play and that it might be a better use of my summer if I just quit.
I told him I was just glad to be there and would be happy to contribute however I could. (Getting to the level of fitted hats and metal spikes was a goal I really wanted.) I then went home and proceeded to break some stuff.
Baseball shouldn’t have even been my favorite sport but it was. My “career” got started early when my dad fudged my age so I could get a jump on the competition with a bonus year of tee-ball. He kept this ruse under wraps by also coaching the team but with my parents in middle of a nasty divorce, there were quite a few games where he intentionally forgot to pick me up. For the games that I attended, he refused to let me call him dad and didn’t acknowledge I was his son.
Still, I enjoyed baseball and continued to play long after he split. It took a few seasons but I developed into a decent player. Granted, it’d take me until I was halfway to second to show any semblance of speed and my throwing motion made it clear my mom had taught me how to throw but I made up for it at the plate and played hard and mostly smart.
Under your dad, I went 6 – 21 for a robust .286 (a stat I remember only because it still sticks in my craw that I didn’t hit over .300). Still, it wasn’t too shabby for someone getting an at-bat every few games. When the season ended in the playoffs, that was the last time I really interacted with your dad. Never had an actual class with him and the invite to shoot hoops in your backyard that he extended to so many others must have gotten lost in the mail.
The next year I moved up to the Senior League and put together a pretty solid season. After a decade of playing, I notched my first game winning hit, coming off the bench for a 7th inning pinch hit double that earned a four paragraph write up on page 3 of the sports section of The Independent. It was one of the few times I got my name in the local paper for sports and it was a nice moment that still has a spot somewhere in my personal top 100 achievements.
Ryker, when you chose the Huskers over the Lopers, it was because you believed you could play quarterback at the highest level.
It doesn’t matter what the message board heroes or media have to say about how doomed the Huskers are going to be with you at the helm. You’ve been waiting years for a chance to prove your detractors wrong and it has finally arrived.
When you take the field tomorrow, the only person who needs to believe in you is you.
Go out there and have fun, live your dream, lead the Huskers to a win, and get your name in the paper.
You got this, buddy. GBR.