August 12, 2016

A father’s lesson, a son’s gift: Magical moment at baseball game strikes to the heart of a beautiful relationship

Brendan McCormick, left, and Johnny Malan had never met until a magical moment at an Indianapolis Indians’ baseball game earlier this year brought the two Catholic school students together. (Submitted photo)

Brendan McCormick, left, and Johnny Malan had never met until a magical moment at an Indianapolis Indians’ baseball game earlier this year brought the two Catholic school students together. (Submitted photo)

By John Shaughnessy

For nearly everyone who goes to a professional baseball game, the great hope is to come home with a souvenir baseball that was used on the field.

Having that hope become a reality is even more thrilling when you’re 12 and your favorite sport is baseball—a passion that you learned from and share with your father.

Which makes the story of what Brendan McCormick did at an Indianapolis Indians’ game this season so special.

And it becomes even more heartwarming when you learn about Brendan and his dad.

The story begins near the end of the last school year when the Indians hosted an “education outside the classroom” day for schools at Victory Field in Indianapolis. The idea is to create some educational challenges for students involving the sport of baseball, and then have them enjoy watching a game.

Brendan and the other sixth-grade students at St. Pius X School in Indianapolis were among the first students in the ballpark, and he and two close friends—Luke Bauer and Johnny Kraege—snagged three front-row seats down the left field line, close to where the Indians’ pitchers warmed up in the bullpen area.

As he waited for the game to begin, 12-year-old Brendan noticed a group of third-grade students from SS. Francis and Clare of Assisi School in Greenwood settle into seats right next to the St. Pius group. He particularly noticed one boy because of the hearing aids and glasses the younger child wore.

Turning his attention back to the field, Brendan watched an Indians’ pitcher and catcher warming up before the game when a ball got by the catcher. Hustling to retrieve it, the catcher picked up the ball near where Brendan sat. Then the catcher did something that Brendan never expected. He tossed the ball to Brendan.

As Brendan smiled and held the ball, some of his classmates begged to see and hold the ball while others made offers for him to give it to them. Yet Brendan already had plans for the ball.

He immediately moved from his seat and weaved his way through the St. Pius- and SS. Francis and Clare sections until he was face to face with the boy with the hearing aids and the glasses.

He held out the ball to Johnny Malan, a child he was meeting for the first time.

“I said, ‘Here you go. Here’s the ball,’ ” Brendan recalls. “He was really happy.”

‘That’s every kid’s dream’

As nice as that moment was, it’s only part of the story.

In the SS. Francis and Clare section, one of the school’s third-grade teachers had been keeping her eyes on her children. And if there’s one thing that’s true about third-grade teachers, it’s this: They rarely miss anything that happens involving the children in their care. So Kathy Ducote had seen everything that unfolded in that special moment between Brendan and Johnny. And she was moved.

“He did something adults wouldn’t do,” Ducote recalls. “What he did exhibited what our faith is all about—love your neighbor.”

Ducote left her seat and walked toward Brendan and Johnny. On the verge of tears, she thanked Brendan and asked to take a photo of the boys together. After the photo, she asked Brendan his name. When he told her his first name, she took a closer look at his face behind his sunglasses and baseball cap.

“I asked him, ‘Are you an Alerding? Oops, a McCormick?’ ” Ducote recalls.

Brendan said yes to both his mother’s maiden name and his family’s name. Ducote immediately thought of Laurie and John McCormick, her friends from their days as fellow students at Cathedral High School in Indianapolis.

Ducote also thought of the devastating reality that, in early February of 2015, John McCormick had been diagnosed with a terminal brain cancer where the average extended life expectancy was another 15 months. And since Brendan had given Johnny the ball in early May of 2016, those 15 months had just about passed.

“I couldn’t even fathom watching your dad struggle like that when you’re 12,” says Ducote, who still struggles at times with the death of her father two years ago. “I had my dad more than 40 years, and it’s hard for me as an adult.”

Her thoughts return to what Brendan did in the midst of that heartbreaking time.

“OK, it’s just a baseball, but that’s every kid’s dream when they go to a baseball game—to get a ball,” Ducote says. “God had an angel in human form that day in Brendan.”

A father’s approach to life and parenting

No one knows better the relationship between a father and his children than the mother of those children.

Laurie McCormick was attracted to her future husband shortly after he transferred to Cathedral High School as a junior when she was a sophomore. John gave a note to Laurie, asking her to give it to one of her fellow cheerleaders for him. She smiled and sweetly told him that he should give the note to her. They dated, became high school sweethearts, and married in 1995. Three sons followed: Sean, 18, Kiernan, 16, and Brendan, now 13.

As she watched her boys grow through the years, Laurie always marveled at the approach John had as a father. In describing him as “an amazing dad,” she offers a list of his guidelines as a parent:

  • From the day they are born, make your children your world.
  • Teach them to respect others, and to especially look out for people who may need your help.
  • Be involved in their lives, asking them questions and talking to them about what matters most to them.
  • Show your children to stay close to God by living your faith.
  • Always give them your love.

Like his older brothers, Brendan has been blessed by his father’s approach to parenting and life. He is also the son who has completely embraced his father’s love of baseball.

His closeness with his dad and his passion for the sport grew during John’s years as a teacher and a baseball coach at three high schools in the Indianapolis area: Bishop Chatard, Lawrence Central and Franklin Central.

“I just really enjoy baseball,” Brendan says. “My dad would take me to the games and explain stuff to me. I would sit in the dugout with the players and help out the team.”

‘Thank you God for another day’

So a love of baseball and his dad’s guidelines to life were ingrained in Brendan on that day in May when the Indians’ catcher tossed him the ball.

It was also a time when John was continuing to teach and coach at Franklin Central, even as he came home many evenings exhausted.

“When he got the diagnosis, he was determined to fight it and win,” Laurie says. “He went back to school, and taught and coached. And he wouldn’t miss anything involving our kids. He didn’t care how tired he was.

“The first thing he said every day when he got up was. ‘Thank you, God, for another day.’ He was deeply faithful. He would pray his rosary daily. But he also struggled with why this was happening.”

Even if Brendan didn’t know his father’s struggle of faith, he daily saw the faith and courage his father showed in trying to overcome his physical struggles. And those thoughts and principles of his father were with him as he moved through the Victory Field crowd to give the ball to Johnny Malan.

His father would be the first person that Brendan told about what he did that day.

“When my dad came home, I told him,” Brendan says. “He gave me a hug and told me he was proud of me. Then he said, ‘I need to lie down.’ ”

‘I wanted to have time with him’

Forty-six days later, Brendan and his brothers Sean and Kiernan spent their last Father’s Day—June 19—with their dad.

By then, John McCormick’s courageous effort to make the most of his last 16 months was in its final days. As he rested in hospice, his large, extended Catholic family had gathered to share their memories, their prayers and their love with him one more time. Before the family saw John, Laurie made sure Brendan, Sean and Kiernan had some private time with their dad.

“I gave him a card,” Brendan says. “It was very sad. At the time, I’m 12 and I’m about to see my dad die. I wanted to have time with him.”

During that time, Brendan thought of one of the last gifts his dad had given him—the extensive collection of baseball cards that John McCormick had collected since he was a boy himself.

“He told me, ‘You’re the one who loves baseball,’ ” Brendan says with a smile.

Brendan also smiles when he remembers the last baseball game that he and his father shared together. It was the last game of Brendan’s youth baseball league this spring, and John McCormick’s friends had arranged for him to see the game from a golf cart. Brendan hit a triple that game, and made a couple of nice plays in the field as his proud father savored the moments.

“My dad insisted on seeing my last game,” Brendan says. “I played really good.”

A father’s lesson, a son’s gift

John McCormick died on June 23—four days after Father’s Day—at the age of 44.

At his viewing, more than 1,000 people showed up. Many of them were former students who shared stories of how he made a difference in their lives as a teacher, a coach, a friend and a mentor—including how he bought shoes and food for them in times of need.

All the stories captured the essence of the way her husband lived his life, Laurie says.

“You just give and give, and it becomes who you are,” she says.

Then there is the story of what a father taught a son, a story of the moment when a 12-year-boy who loves baseball gives a prized ball to a younger boy.

Brendan still remembers the look on his father’s face when he first told him about what he did with the ball.

“I think he felt really good, kind of like, ‘I taught my son how to do this. I taught my son to be a good person.’” †

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