Every day for 366 days in a row, rain or shine, or in freezing wind, Ethan Bryan played catch. He played catch with friends new and old, with his daughters, with other great fans of baseball, with people who had never played catch, with people from around the world with whom he didn't share a language but could still communicate and connect through playing catch.
Bryan, a Missouri-based author, started blogging about his spontaneously dreamed-up project—to play catch every day throughout 2018 from the time he received a baseball from one of his daughters as a gift. (Had she not agreed to play catch with him that New Year's Day, the project wouldn't have happened.) That night at the dinner table, the family talked about resolutions, and Bryan thought, well, why not resolve to play every day?
It took less than a week for Bryan to make a solid commitment to it; and with every game of catch, he would give it his all. He never wanted to just go through the motions; he wanted to honor the commitment, and honor whoever was giving him their time to play catch together ("Here's a resolution that you need to have someone else to complete, which is just hilarious anyway," he said).
"Going into it with that attitude of not going through the motions really emphasized that connection that we’re all missing when we just quickly respond to a text, quickly respond to an email—that play-centered story-sharing, that changed my life, it was wonderful," Bryan said.
Bryan has loved baseball since he was practically a toddler; for years, his dream was playing for the Kansas City Royals.
Real Bonds and ConnectionsThere is something transcendent about sports and sports stories, connecting us to something bigger.
Early on in the project, local media covered Bryan's resolution of playing a game of catch every day of the year, and the story got picked up by other media. Invitations to play also came pouring in. Bryan remembered that his wife was baffled, and asked why so many people were so interested in someone playing catch. He thought that was a good question.
One of Bryan's favorite words is "friend," and he made hundreds of friends that year.
"There’s something about this physical activity, and it takes both sides of your brain to coordinate your body catching throwing a ball, and so since your brain is so engaged in this activity now its gatekeepers have come down and it opens you up to real connection with the person," Bryan said. "And so I think these people who were so positive in their responses had at some point in their life experienced that connection."
It was a year that strengthened family bonds, too.
From the very beginning, Bryan sat down with the family and talked about what this would look like; if it was going to work, it couldn't come at the expense of straining his relationships with his wife and daughters. They talked over worst-case scenarios and ended up with some of the best-case scenarios.
During a fundraiser screening of "Field of Dreams" with the local theater for the local Miracle League, Bryan sat in the back of the auditorium, struck with inspiration at the road trip scene. He leaned over and whispered to his wife that they had to do a catch-playing road trip.
"I'd go play catch for an hour, and then we [had] the rest of the time [to] go do things together," he said. "It was a wonderful way to get us out of our routines and go to places we never would have gone.
"Driving from the northwest corner to the southeast corner of Iowa in one day was a long stretch, but we laughed and we told stories and we took breaks and we saw scenery out the window. It was good to be able to undertake such an amazing year with my wife and daughters."
The Power of PlayThe morning before Bryan spoke to The Epoch Times by phone, he played catch again with someone he hadn't seen in two years. His playing partner had already had a rough morning, but as they threw the ball and talked about dreams and life and their children, he told Bryan what a reset the game was and how it had helped him have a better day.
Bryan has long believed in the importance of play. One of his playing partners was a professor who then introduced him to the Institute of Play and a wealth of research on its benefits.
"As we age, we have to be intentional about creating a space to play."
Through play, learning to deal with difficult things like adversity, and developing resilience, take on a layer of fun.
"There were hard things," Bryan said. "We really had to work to make it happen. Someone had to cancel, or weather was horrible, because that’s what Springfield, Missouri, was known for, so you had to get creative in how you went about it."
There was that day when he was going to play catch with the local fire chief, who had a really limited window of time, and it was pouring sheets of rain. They ended up playing under the covered drive-through area of a bank.
In fact, Jan. 2, 2019, was the first day he hadn't played catch since the inaugural New Year's Day game with his daughter. That day, as he sat and thought about it, he felt a sense of loss.
"Physical disciplines really shape a person, and I really, really missed it," he said. "I think that kind of points fingers at how powerful play is, and how important play is in our lives.
“As we get older, it’s really easy to let all of life’s responsibilities just press in and weigh us down like groceries, dishes, bills, homework, school, jobs, and all the responsibilities that come with being adults, but it really is imperative that we not just find time to play but that we intentionally create space to play. Because we can’t be fully human apart from play. When we stop playing, there’s a part of us that dies.
"We really live in a play-deprived society, especially as we get older. It's best seen in how we treat strangers, how we treat those who disagree with us, how we respond when faced with adversity and challenges.
Perseverance, Hopes, and DreamsBryan was 4 years old when he attended his first baseball game, and for as long as he can remember his dream was to play for the Kansas City Royals. But he quit playing baseball at 16, before hitting his growth spurt. Looking back, Bryan says he gave up too easily on something that was supposed to have been his dream for most of his life.
When he finished playing a year of catch, one of the big revelations he had was that, this time, he hadn't given up.
"It's OK to work hard to make dreams come true, and I guess that's what I wish I could tell 16-year-old me, which is don't be afraid of the hard work you have to do, of the good that can come of it," Bryan said. "For so many years I would joke about, hey I'd love to do play catch with somebody, and I'd just say it, but then I'd never do anything about it. So go do something about it, make some phone calls, send some emails, you'll get somebody to say yes and it'll be worth it."
Bryan is a firm believer in living out a good story, and that each of our stories can impact others. "The goal is to live our story in such a way that it inspires and helps others to live their best story," he said. His perseverance this time around certainly would have inspired his 16-year-old self.
Aside from the sense of accomplishment he felt after finishing the year, Bryan also realized he physically felt so much better. The sense of loss from not playing catch every day didn't last long—now Bryan is playing baseball. All that catch rekindled his 16-year-old dreams, and he made the local semi-professional league, where he's currently playing his second season.
"So I get to introduce myself as a baseball player! It's a joy," he said.