As I've mentioned before being at the NCBA World Series is a very special time for me. It's special for many reasons, but a primary reason is that I'm literally on the field. This perspective gives me the opportunity to great some great shots, get hit or run over, and chat with my friends. As I mentioned in my post about Toby Walker, a select group of umpires are a very special part of why the NCBA WS is my happy place.
Ryan Hastings, Kevin Franz and Steve Johnson are not only dedicated umpires but they are my friends. My friendship with Ryan (and Toby) started with the first WS where we were together. Ryan is very friendly on the field and the first time that I was invited to go out with them after the games I was like a kid at Christmas listening to all the baseball stories that Ryan and Toby shared as well as the deep discussions about the calls made during the games - I was so impressed how they analyzed and reanalyzed the plays and rules - you see, Ryan and his crew ALWAYS, above everything else, want to get things right.
Over the years, my times after games with Ryan and the guys became more frequent. I felt like I was part of crew, an awesome kid in candy store experience.
Because of Toby's passing, the time with the guys was extra special to me. I met up with them as often as possible. Being with Ryan, Kevin and Steve was therapy to me, it helped lessen the hurt of Toby not being there. Telling great Toby stories was a part of time together.
The guys are true friends and made me feel special. The hardest thing for me was to try and pay for my food and drinks - they always said "I (we) got this Richard."
As you would expect, saying goodbye was very hard. This last year has reinforced the reality of life that nothing is certain, you just never know.
Although I really miss my great wife and awesome dog Buddy, I sit here wishing that the 2024 NCBA WS was about to begin.
Until next time, be safe, be good and hug a friend.