HOUSTON — Jim Freeman woke up his sons Sunday morning at a hotel in suburban Houston and asked them if they wanted to go to an Astros game. Her eldest, 16-year-old Rylan, had taken part in a baseball tournament over the weekend, and the family was due to return home to Corpus Christi, Texas.
But it was Father’s Day and the Astros were playing a night game against the White Sox, so Jim bought three tickets for himself, Rylan and his youngest son, Weston, in Section 102 and pointed his car to Minute Maid Park. They couldn’t have guessed that it would be the best Father’s Day they could have imagined.
Sitting in the Crawford Boxes above left field, Rylan recovered a home run from Astros designated hitter JJ Matijevic in the fourth inning of Houston’s 4-3 win. It was the first career hit for Matijevic and — as is customary in such cases — the Astros sent a representative to negotiate what it would take for Rylan to return the ball to Matijevic.
“They came up to me and said, ‘What do you want? ‘” Rylan said. “I love throwing so I said I wanted a JV shirt. I love Justin Verlander. I asked for a JV shirt and they said, ‘We can’t do that’. I said: ‘Alright Alright.’ So my dad and I talked about it and I said, ‘Yuli Gurriel.’ I wanted to get his bat, his jersey, whatever, and they said, ‘We can’t. So me and my dad talked, and we said, ‘Six tickets and we get to come watch BP for them, and we get a signed Jose Altuve ball.’ That’s great.
They had a deal. The match was televised nationally on ESPN and Rylan’s phone started to explode. Friends and family members back home saw it all unfold on TV. And shortly after, a representative from Astros returned with a brown paper bag containing a Verlander jersey signed with the inscription “Nice catch!”
“I didn’t even know it until a friend of mine texted me and said, ‘JV is signing your shirt on live TV right now!’ and I freaked out,” said Rylan, whose high school team the London Tigers won the Texas 3A state title last weekend. “The experience is amazing. bring it, I couldn’t even believe it. I saw the shirt and my mind went blank. I’m just loving life right now.
Astros fans also started to recognize Rylan and stopped him for selfies. Her father, Jim, was grinning from ear to ear.
“Best Father’s Day,” Jim said. “But it’s not over yet.”
Truth be told, Rylan didn’t really catch baseball, but that part of the story didn’t matter much.
“It actually bounced off someone’s head and then it bounced off another person’s head and fell on the floor, and I just picked it up,” he said.
Matijevic, who was hitless on his first eight Major League batters, had a surreal experience while rounding the bases. He got it all, watching the fans and knowing he’ll remember it all his life.
“This moment here is not just for me,” he said. “It’s for my family and my friends, my fiancée. I worked very hard for this moment, and I dedicate it to them. I thank them very much for believing in me and supporting me. It’s not all about me.
Meanwhile, 1,360 miles away in Jeanette, Pennsylvania, Fire Captain Joe Matijevic had just returned home from an overtime 24-hour shift and turned on the television in time to see the first hit from his son’s career. As for Father’s Day, that was also pretty remarkable.
“It was amazing,” Joe said. “Best Father’s Day gift I could have asked for. I started screaming and screaming. My neighbors probably thought I was crazy.
JJ Matijevic then heard about the details of the negotiations with Rylan and came away impressed with the kid’s ability to get a deal done.
“I intended to give the little kid a signed bat,” he said. “That’s all I wanted, but man, he’s the best negotiator I’ve ever seen. If he wanted a signed bat, I’d give it to him. Whatever he wants, I’m just Glad to have the ball back. And thank you.”
Everything was worth it. Matijevic said he was going to give it to his father.
“I just hope he’s proud of me, and that’s all that really matters to me,” he said. “I know he is, and I know he’s smiling at home. Unfortunately he couldn’t be there, but I know he’s watching and I know he’s smiling.