JUNE 3, 2016

On Monday, May 30th, 2016 my husband, John, and I decided to take our 8 year old son, Keegan, to opening night for the Forest City Owls in Forest City, NC. After looking at their website and seeing the advertisement of the exhibition game against the US National Military All-Stars I figured it would be a great way to spend some family time on a hot Memorial Day. We started the 30 minute drive to the stadium and Keegan was already excited about seeing some baseball! Keegan started playing baseball when he was 4 and has a genuine love for the game. He practices hard and always seems to find a way to incorporate baseball into almost everything.

Once we arrived at the stadium and got our tickets Keegan was in a foot race to get to our normal seats. We have taken Keegan to several games before and he always wants to sit on the visitor side in the foul ball section to the right of the visitor dugout. At the Owls stadium there are nice lawn chairs in that section that are first come first serve. We were lucky enough to get the last three remaining chairs for this game. Keegan picked his seat, the farthest away, and sat down with his ball glove. See, those seats aren’t the greatest seats in the house. The sun shines directly in your eyes for the first hour or so of the game and it’s nearly impossible to get a good view of home plate. None the less, that’s where he chooses to sit, just in case a foul ball comes that way he’ll be close enough to grab one before the game ends. This game was like all the others to him, the end goal: return home with a foul ball.

The pregame ceremonies were beautiful and getting to watch the team in formation was astounding. As the ceremonies ended the players began to flood the dugout. Keegan was already on his feet at the fence, just waiting for the game to start. You never know, that first pitch could lead to a foul ball off the third base line. Several of the All-Stars walked past Keegan on their way into the dugout. Most spoke to him in some way or at least offered a bright smile. I couldn’t help but notice his face as those players walked by him. He stared in adoration at each and every one of them. I was certain they appeared as living heroes to him. Keegan has been raised to honor and respect all those that serve, past or present, on the home front or overseas. After all his own father has protected and served for 18 years with the Cleveland County Sheriff’s Office. So here he was, looking at these grown men that serve our country, in awesome camouflage uniforms, and GET TO PLAY BASEBALL!! That glow I saw in my son’s eye, THAT’S WHAT DREAMS ARE MADE OF!

The last few players were trickling into the dugout when I saw one of them approaching the fence at Keegan. “You ready for a ballgame buddy?” the player asked. “Yes, sir!” Keegan responded. “I want to catch a foul ball!” The player smiled a huge smile and disappeared down the dugout stairs. A few moments past and the player returned. “Would you like to hang out in the dugout with us and then help me warm up in left field between innings?” He asked. Keegan spun around and looked at John and me with a huge, semi toothless smile. Another team member, I’m assuming the manager, walked up and told the player he would have to find Keegan a helmet and that Keegan would have to wear it the entire game. Both John and I nodded with our consent and John walked him to the stairs of the dugout.

Keegan was grinning ear to ear as he stepped foot onto that field. I saw him look down at the perfectly manicured sand and grass as he stepped in. It was so different from the peewee fields he’s played on. The dark brown sand, bright green grass and perfectly straight, bright white foul lines that seem to stretch for miles. Keegan reached out and shook the hand of the #17 introducing himself. The player placed a batting helmet, at least four sizes too big on Keegan’s head and they disappeared into the dugout. As I sat back down in my seat I couldn’t help but think THAT’S WHAT DREAMS ARE MADE OF!

The US Military All-Stars were first to bat and I noticed immediately that the #17 was the starting hitter. As he walked to the plate I had a worried mommy moment and leaned over to John and asked “Do you think Keegan is ok down there in the dugout?” I mean, he is my only son and at this point I couldn’t see him at all. John looked at me and said “He’s in a dugout with a bunch of young service men. How much safer could he be?” I laughed and quickly shook my head in an attempt to rattle my mommy fears out either of my ears. The first three outs seemed to come quick and it was time for the All-Stars to take the field. #17 jogged out the exit of the dugout headed to left field, about 10 feet behind him, just barely able to keep up with his shadow was Keegan. Glove in hand and oversized helmet on his head he was headed for left field, during an actual game! I clapped and said “Go Keegan!” but he didn’t even look my way. I had seen that look before, it was go time and he had his game face on! I sat and watched as he threw the ball back and forth to #17. Seemingly unaware of the crowd or anything else that was going on. I watched him catch some tough passes and miss some easy ones. I watched him make some good throws and some not so great ones. When warm up was over he hustled back to the dugout. This time he turned and looked and his dad and me, baring a smile like I’ve never seen! THAT’S WHAT DREAMS ARE MADE OF!

For the next eight innings I watched much of the same. Warming up #17 in left field, standing arm to arm with other players on the dugout fence and occasionally peaking around the corner to smile at mom and dad. At one point he tossed us a foul ball and we got him a pen so he could get all the team to sign it. The National Guard stand was selling team jerseys and I went and purchased one for him. I had high hopes that he might wear it the remainder of the game, but even the smallest one swallowed him whole. Through it all one thing was the same, those sparkling eyes and that infectious smile.

The game came to an end and John and I walked down to the dugout to retrieve our little baseball junkie. We both shook hands with #17, who introduced himself as Lesean Thomas. We thanked him for his service to our country and for the opportunity that he gave our son. Keegan came running up the stairs of the dugout, his cheeks packed pull of Big League gum that a player had given him, a half empty bag of sunflower seeds hanging out of his back pocket. He had taken his time leaving the dugout to thank all the players and shake hands. He was now carrying two bats, both cracked being used during the game, one was displaying #17 on the handle. We took a quick photo of him and Lesean Thomas and headed back to the car. The 30 minute drive home was full of 8 year old stories from the dugout. Too many to recount them all. The following days have been full of Keegan retelling those stories to anyone that will listen. Every version just the same with the same smile and sparkle in his eyes that he had that very night. The signed ball and two bats sit proudly in his room. He was sure to instruct me that the #17 bat had to sit out in front of the others.

I’m not really versed on how the military works when it comes to recognition. Maybe it ranges from pats on the back to medals of honor but I can tell you that from my perspective, Mr. Lesean Thomas deserves something! The call for duty in itself meets the status of “above and beyond” on a daily basis, but this was something more to us and to my son. I don’t know yet if all of Keegan’s dreams will come true. He’s still 8 and dreams pretty big, but I can promise you that after this experience given to him by Lesean Thomas, and the rest of the team, Keegan knows WHAT DREAMS ARE MADE OF!

Most Humbled,
John, Stori, and Keegan McIntyre