My husband, Jim, routinely pushes me to ask questions I feel are strange, stupid or a waste of time. After all, I already know the answer is no. But, he continues to defy the odds by asking these questions and getting what he wants. He once used a paint sprayer to paint our dining room. He completed the job, but was not too impressed with how the sprayer worked. He took it back in a bag, covered in paint and may or may not of even had the box or receipt…I told him it was a waste of time. He came home with a full refund in his pocket – WHAT? He proves the phrase, “it never hurts to ask,” almost every day. But never so much as he did this summer…
The evening of June 21st, my family and I were at a Frisco RoughRiders game. The RoughRiders are the AA affiliate of the Texas Rangers. Their home ballpark – Dr. Pepper Ballpark – is in Frisco, Texas, and they routinely offer special ticket pricing and spirit evenings to youth sports leagues in the area. On this night we were there with our recreational baseball team the PSA Rangers. Shortly after the game began, Jim told me he would be back in a minute. I assumed he was either going to the restroom or to get us some drinks. When he returned, he did not have the ice-cold beverages I had hoped he would. I asked him where he went and he pulled out his phone and showed me a name and phone number. I shrugged and said, “Who is that?” His smile got really big as he answered, “I walked over to the Riders’ bullpen and asked the pitchers if anyone would be interested in coaching my kids. This is the one who said YES!” I am sure I had a look of shock on my face. For a few minutes I thought he was kidding, but a quick scan of the roster and there he was – Jimmy Reyes, a left-handed reliever for the RoughRiders. Once again, his taking a chance to ask what I would have told him was a silly question paid off.
It has now been a little more than two months since we met Jimmy, and knowing him like we do now, I should not have been shocked at all that he said, “I’ll do it!” This guy is the real deal – talented, humble, personable, well-spoken, Hollywood good looks, and one heck of a coach! Jimmy answered our first text to set up a lesson within a couple of minutes. We met him just two days later on a sunny Sunday morning at a local ballpark. This was the first time I would be meeting Jimmy and my curiosity was overwhelming. What kind of young, professional athlete would want to spend his morning with a couple of 9-year-old strangers? After all, Jim did not take the boys with him when he approached the Riders’ bullpen. Jimmy had no idea who we really were or what he was getting himself into.
As Jimmy got out of his SUV, the first thing I noticed about him was his height. Pitchers are typically pretty tall, this guy was about the same height as my husband 5’10″. Since we are big fans of the little guy – I’m happier now than I would have been with a 6’4”, A-typical pitching machine. The next thing I notice are his perfect white teeth. They are hard to miss surrounded by a black, close-cut, curly beard and mustache. Move on to sparkling brown eyes and wavy black hair and a well-built, slightly stocky physique and I can see every college athlete I knew rolled into one. He moves like an athlete even walking from the car and although not shy, he did not seem full-of-himself either. He is quick to make introductions to me, the boys, and Katie keeping eye contact and smiling widely. He tells us he is 24 years old and is from Miami, Florida. He went to Elon University in North Carolina and calls NC his home. He is engaged to be married and happy to be here playing baseball and living his dream. He immediately gets the boys talking about pitching and moves them to the outfield to warm them up and watch them throw.
As he talks to the boys about their pitching, they already seem at ease which is pretty hard to do with 9 year-old boys. Jim stays close with the video camera so we can reinforce what Jimmy tells them. I mean, who knows, this could be the only lesson they get. Jimmy could get called up, down or even just decide giving kids lessons isn’t worth his time. Not to look too curious, Katie and I head to the nearby playground to play. As I watch from the top of the play structure, I can see that he is reinforcing the basics they have already been taught by their other pitching coaches over the years. Then when they move to the mound to see what they can do, it isn’t long before I hear Jimmy start the stream of positive comments that fuel the boys desire to keep working. “Good,” “That will work,” I’ll take it,” “Yeah,” “That’s it,” “PERFECT!” When they forget an instruction or need reinforcement, Jimmy moves to the mound, talks to them, shows the movement and goes back to catch. There is no yelling, no negative looks, not an ounce of frustration shows on this young man’s face. How old was he again?
As I see the lesson wrapping up, Katie and I head back over to the field. Jimmy has good things to say about the boys. He tells us he thinks he can help them learn a couple of things and is willing to work with them as much as he can when he is in town. Unfortunately, he is not sure when that will be. The Rider’s last home game of the month is tonight followed by the All-Star break and a trip to Arkansas to play 6 games. The next time he will be home is July 2nd for one day off before the next 6 game series at home. After that they embark on a dizzying set of 26 games, both at home and away, without a day off. OUCH! We agree to contact him via text right before he comes back home to see if we can fit something in. Before we get into our cars to leave, we ask him if he thinks he will get to pitch tonight and he thinks he might. The schedule of a reliever is hard to know for sure. It all depends on a multitude of moving parts, how many innings the starting pitcher throws, the last reliever rotation, whether the batters do well against a righty or lefty - the list of variables goes on and on. We’ve got nothing going on tonight so we tell him we will be at the game. There is a brief exchange with him offering us tickets, us saying no that’s too much, offering again and finally us accepting his generous offer. WOOHOO! We know a pitcher AND get to go for FREE! Today is shaping up to be a pretty good day!
We get to the ballpark a bit late – moving our family of five sometimes seems like moving a mountain – and arrive on the concourse just as they are singing the national anthem. We can see Jimmy in uniform on the field. He looks different in his uniform – bigger and bolder somehow. He is glancing over his shoulder every so often looking in the direction of our section in the stands. OH NO! He’s looking for us and thinks we did not come! We rush down trying to get there before the relievers leave the field. We don’t make it.
Oh well, the seats are awesome! We are close to the Riders’ dugout, about five rows up from the field, in the midst of players’ families. COOL! Finally we look at the bullpen and there are a bunch of players taking their seats to watch and wait. The kids and I head over while Jim grabs our ballpark dinner of hot dogs, nachos, and sodas. We walk in front of the bullpen which honestly seems like a dog run or fishbowl with people sitting all around staring at pitchers as they try to warm up or watch the game. Jimmy is not there. Our hearts sink. I ask one of the other pitchers, “Where’s Jimmy?” He answers in typical athlete fashion with a shrug and a smirk. We go back to our seats watching, cheering, eating and keeping an eye on the bullpen for our hero. Finally we see him enter the bullpen. I already recognize his gait as he grabs a chair and sits down right in the middle of the other pitchers.
When we get over to the bullpen to say hello, he seems different somehow. His bright white smile is the same, he recognizes us immediately and says, “Hey!”, but does not get up from his seat for what seems like minutes. When he does, he walks over slowly and leans over the fence looking down at us and honestly – I am intimidated. Same cool kid, but here at “his office” he is not the easy-going coach, but the all-business professional pitcher. He is curious about the location of our seats and if we are having fun. We thank him again, wish him luck and make our way up to the concourse. I watch over my shoulder as we walk back to our seats. Jimmy sits back down, leans back in his chair and puts some sunflower seeds in his mouth. No one seems to be curious about who we were. Honestly, none of the other guys even looked at us while we were talking with Jimmy. I wonder how strange it must be to be stuck in that fishbowl for 3 or more hours every game. Jimmy told us some stories earlier in the day about fans. Dads who ask for baseballs and yell things like, “I pay your salary!” at them when they tell him they are not allowed to give away the balls. (They actually use them to warm up you know!) The kids and parents yelling at them as they try to warm up. I am embarrassed hearing some of the stories. It reminds me to be sure my kids are not raised with this crazy sense of entitlement I see everywhere we go. Weeks later when I ask him why he really agreed to coach our boys, he answers, “That was the first time I ever heard anyone ask that question.” I am so proud of my husband Jim for being so unafraid of the word “No”!
I honestly do not remember which inning it was, probably the 6th or 7th, when Jimmy took the mound. We were so excited I did not even notice what music they played as jogged onto the field. His first inning was done in a flash and went well enough to earn him a second inning that night. What a thrill to see your coach on the mound. The boys were basically vibrating with excitement. We cheered like crazy at every pitch. I even got angry when a fan somewhere behind us yelled, “He’s too small to be a pitcher!” But, Jimmy didn’t need our protection, the next pitch did all the talking – a fastball whizzing right by the batter. “We call that a Bayou Pitch,” says Jim, “Cuz it went right BY YOU!” When Jimmy leaves the mound, he is looking down. We are on our feet cheering and clapping like he just won the World Series, but he is oblivious to what is going on in the stands. He is focused on the game and what comes next.
We were hooked! But, as any Mommy with a computer should do, I decided to do a little internet stalking to see just who this kid really was. He was EXACTLY who he said he was and more. The kid was relatively spotless. No crazy twitter fights. No inappropriate pictures on instagram. No police mug shot or arrest report, just a talented ballplayer with a supportive family working to achieve his dream of playing in the big leagues. He was late to a lesson only once and when our summer travel schedules overlapped leaving only one day to squeeze in a lesson (on his day off no less), he not only showed up, but brought his Father along to meet us. No surprises there either. His Dad was a well-built, athletic man with a strong stare, Miami style and fiercely protective of his boy. Jimmy’s Dad played college ball and had a few pointers for the boys as well. During the lesson he talked to me about all that had changed in baseball since his days of playing and coaching. He warned me about pushing the boys too hard and risking injury. I could tell he was not thrilled about Jimmy agreeing to coach us, but he wanted to support his son’s decisions.
We went to 4 or 5 RoughRiders’ games in July & August to see Jimmy and watch him pitch. When the trade deadline loomed, I watched the internet for news like a nervous Mother wondering what would happen to her son. When the Riders were on the road, I listened to games on the radio and felt every pitch, every hit and got angry at the announcers if they were not positive enough about his outing. When the games were televised and Jimmy was on the mound, we were watching even if we had to stay up way past our bedtime to do it! We defied licensing agreements and made our own “Reyes 17” shirts when they were not available in the team store. And we cheered like maniacs EVERY time our coach was on “the bump”!
All in all, the boys had 8 lessons with Jimmy. There was only one home stand over the next two months where Jimmy was not able to work with us – and that was when he had 6 family members in town. Honestly, I think he tried very hard to work us into that time as well. The boys pitching and their confidence got better each and every time they worked with him. When the boys pitched in a tournament while Jimmy was on the road, he and I were sending texts back and forth talking about how they did. He was always encouraging and honestly could tell what went right or wrong from what little info I was giving him. At our last lesson with him, we told him how much we appreciated his help, but I don’t think he really understands all he has done. Yes, he taught the boys more about pitching. Yes, he is a positive and encouraging coach. Yes, it was fun to have a coach who you could go watch pitch in a game. But it was so much more – he showed them a glimpse of the type of man they could choose to be if their dreams do indeed come true. He served as a role model to my boys that his Mother and Father can be truly proud of.
The RoughRiders’ last home game of the season is Friday, August 30 at 7 pm. You can bet your life we will be in the stands cheering for the team and saying goodbye to our new friend. My life, and my kids’ lives, are forever changed by this young man. In the midst of an information age that can tarnish even the best of players, we have found a diamond. A young man, wise beyond his years, focused on playing his sport and giving back to the world around him. He took a chance and said yes to a fan. He took the time to pass on his knowledge and expertise to some young boys dreaming of being professional baseball players and as a result – gained devoted fans for LIFE! Whatever happens during the off-season, wherever he goes, the Coppingers will be wearing his team’s emblem and cheering him on!
GO JIMMY GO!