Our local slugger–5 years old and pitching at the Major League and loving America’s favorite pastime

“The Luckiest Kid”  A Young Boy’s Past Life Memories and America’s Favorite Pastime

By Cathy Bryd

Christian and mom Cathy Bryd

Christian and mom Cathy Bryd

Anything can happen in baseball.  I’ve been a fan of the game for exactly 2.5 years as the result of my five year-old son Christian Haupt’s uncanny affection for America’s favorite pastime.  A story shared by countless little league moms throughout the world since the proverbial first pitch I’m sure.  Every mother wants to believe that their son will be that one in a million who makes it to the big leagues, but this is not a story about that.  This is the story of a young boy who opened our eyes to the rich history of baseball in the 1920’s and 30’s and taught us that all that truly matters in this lifetime is the difference we make in the lives of others.

At the age of two, Christian was invited to Boston to film a baseball playing cameo role in Adam Sandler’s movie “That’s My Boy”.  The invitation came via a message from Youtube just one week after we uploaded a video of him hitting balls with his tiny wooden bat in the summer of 2011.  While we were in Boston, I took Christian to see the Yankees play the Red Sox at Fenway Park.  When we entered the nearly 100 year old stadium, he was stopped in his tracks by a towering portrait of Babe Ruth on the wall.  He got very agitated and began pointing at the picture and repeating several times, “I do not like him.  He was mean to me!”.  It was a loud display and attracted the attention of the people passing by. 

Babe Ruth

Babe Ruth

One person even commented “The kid is on to something because Babe Ruth was a real jerk.”  I knew nothing about Babe Ruth, but I did recognize him as a famous baseball player.  Before leaving the stadium that day, Christian begged me to buy him a black and white photo of Ted Williams and Bobby Doerr from 1939. 

Shortly after his third birthday, Christian began emphatically insisting that he “used to be a tall baseball player – tall like Daddy” and every night before bed he would share his candid baseball tales with us.  He told us that he played for the Yankees and that his favorite position was first base.  He told us that “in the old days he wore metal cleats, but no helmet for hitting” and that he “didn’t wear seatbelts and drank alcohol”.  He also told us that the Dodgers used to play in New York and he continued to express his disdain for Babe Ruth. 

My knowledge of baseball was minimal and my German immigrant husband knew even less.  One evening when we were in an elevator Christian said, “This elevator kind of looks like a hotel.”  I agreed and he said “When I was a tall baseball player, I used to stay in hotels almost every night.”  Pretending to go along with his story, I asked “Did you fly on airplanes?”, to which he responded, “No, mostly trains.”  At this time Christian had only been to three Major League Baseball games, did not watch baseball on television and he had never been on a train or expressed any interest in trains.  There was no way that he could have possibly known that baseball players stay in hotels.  For me, this was the trigger that sparked my interest in the possibility that Christian’s colorful musings on baseball might be grounded in reality.

I took to the internet to soak up as much information as I could on baseball in the 1920’s and 30’s.  I purchased books on Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig and showed Christian photos.  The first photo I showed him was a photo of Lou Gehrig and a person I thought was Babe Ruth in Yankee uniforms and he was quick to point out that it was the coach, “not dumb Babe Ruth”.  It was indeed Joe McCarthy who was the Manager for the Yankees in the 1930’s.  I then showed  him photographs of Lou Gehrig’s parents.  I asked if the man’s name was “Joseph” and he said no,  “Heinrich?” and he said no, then I asked if it was “Henry” and he said yes which was correct.  Christian pointed at the photo of Lou Gehrig’s mother and said “Why weren’t you there then?   I like you better.”  He was also able to correctly identify her as Christina after saying “no” to some fictitious names I ran by him.  He told me that Henry and Christina smoked and that they didn’t have a car, adding “only strangers had cars”.  Both of Lou Gehrig’s parents were German immigrants and without prompting he said, “I don’t like German”.  

lou

Lou Gehrig

I discovered through my research that in addition be being teammates and two of the best left handed hitters of all time, Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth were once great friends who had a major falling out and did not speak for many years despite playing for the same team.  The first time they acknowledged each other in seven years was on July 4, 1939 when Lou Gehrig announced his retirement from baseball at Yankee Stadium.  Lou Gehrig moved an entire nation to tears with his profound words spoken by a man facing his imminent demise from the ravaging effects of ALS.  While wiping away his own tears he said, “I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the Earth.  And I might have been given a bad break, but I’ve got an awful lot to live for.”  Lou Gehrig took his final breath two years later at the age of 37.  I also read that Babe Ruth had a notable fascination with trains and hotel elevators.  I never shared this information with Christian, and as time went by his own story telling became less frequent.  All that Christian asked for from Santa that year was “big squishy bases” and “a machine and chalk to make baselines” and his wish came true.

The most peculiar element of our son’s obsession with baseball was his completely natural form as a lefty, both hitting and pitching.  He did a leg kick with his pitch without any instruction and only after asking an ex-professional baseball player friend did we realize that the reason he would shake his head before throwing a pitch was that he was “shaking off the sign”.   The same friend had to explain to us what “shaking off the sign” meant.

Christian and Clayton Kershaw

Christian and Clayton Kershaw

In September of 2012, just three weeks after Christian’s fourth birthday, he was given the honor of throwing out the ceremonial first pitch at an L.A. Dodgers game.  Six months earlier, an ownership group spearheaded by Magic Johnson had purchased the Dodgers.  Magic Johnson (who shares a birthday with Christian) and Dodger pitcher Clayton Kershaw convinced the marketing executives to let a young kid throw out a first pitch for the first time in history.  Christian’s first pitch and his imitation of Clayton Kershaw’s stretch was a big hit with the crowd and with the media.  The AP photo of Christian’s first pitch taken by Mark J. Terrill received international awards and was featured in the FOX Sports and Atlantic Magazine best photos of the year for 2012.  The framed photograph now hangs in the Owners Suite at Dodger Stadium and in the home of legendary Dodger pitcher Sandy Koufax.  Christian is one lucky kid.

In February 2013, I received a voicemail from Tommy Lasorda, the 85 year-old former Dodger Manager,  inviting our son to attend Dodger Spring Training in Arizona.  Tommy said, “I’d like to film your little guy swinging that bat.  That’s an amazing, amazing thing for a young man like that to swing the bat the way he does and I’d like to have it on file, on film.  Is that okay with you?”  When we were in Arizona Christian said to Tommy, “You used to play for the Yankees”.  Tommy replied, “Yes, son, I was

Christian and Tommy Lasorda

Christian and Tommy Lasorda

with the Yankees organization for one year”.  I was shocked when he said it because I knew  there no way Christian could have known that and I didn’t even know it myself.  I told Tommy the stories Christian had told us about being a “tall baseball player” and staying in “hotels almost every night” and riding on “trains”, but Tommy chalked it up to the kid having a good imagination.  I still wasn’t sure to think about all of Christian’s stories myself.  Some things in life do not need to be fully understood in order to be appreciated.

At the age of five,  Christian is now playing in weekly baseball tournaments with kids who are equally obsessed with the sport.  He continues to express his feelings about Lou Gehrig, Babe Ruth and the New York Yankees but with a more mature perspective.  What was expressed in raw emotional reactions to Babe Ruth’s photos at the age of 3, he recently expressed by saying, “Babe Ruth was a very jealous man”.  When I asked Christian why Babe Ruth was jealous, he said “Because he was not related to Lou Gehrig’s mom”.  From my past research I was under the impression that the feud between them was the result of Lou Gehrig not being able to locate his wife when they were on a cruise ship and being upset when he found her drinking champagne in Babe Ruth’s cabin.  I recently looked into the relationship between Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig’s mother and found out that it was a falling out between Babe Ruth and Christina (Lou’s mother) that initiated the feud between the two men originally.  Prior to the falling out, Christina was like a mother to Babe Ruth who never had a relationship with his own mother.  I read that Babe Ruth was sent to a Catholic Reformatory and raised as an orphan after being declared “incorrigible” by his parents at the age of seven. 

Christian recently looked at a photograph of Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig standing together and said “Even though Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth played baseball together and took pictures together, they didn’t talk to each other.”  It was a statement right out of the baseball history books, but Christian doesn’t read and had never been exposed to that information.  When I ask him how he knows these things, he replies, “I just know.”  Christian told me that Lou Gehrig only had 3 people in his family and we have four.  He can now draw distinct lines between the past and present and recently said “I have a hard time remembering when I was a tall baseball player because God gave me a new brain now.”

One day when Christian was hitting,  I noticed that he wasn’t bending his front elbow which is standard form for baseball players, both professional players and in little league.  I asked him why he had started doing that and encouraged him to bend his elbow rather than holding his arm straight back.  It inspired me to look back at the old videos of his swing and I realized that it is something he has done going back to the videos from when he was two years old.  That is when I searched for a video of Lou Gehrig’s hitting style on Youtube.  I found this video and when I compared it to a video of Christian’s first tournament I noticed more similarities than just their unique swing.  Christian slides in a very similar way to Lou Gehrig with his arm up in the air and Christian removes his helmet right after touching home plate, just as Lou Gehrig did when he would raise his hat to the crowd.  I’ve since watched videos of professional players and other kids and it is customary to remove batting helmets in the dugout, not on the field.

Here is the video of Lou Gehrig & Babe Ruth

Here is the video of Christian’s first tournament in 11/2013:

I then showed the video of Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth to Christian and he remarked, “Look at dumb Babe Ruth, he doesn’t even bend his knees when he swings”. 

By researching the stories our young son had shared with us, my eyes were opened to a world that I didn’t know existed for the first 40 years of my life.  I delved into the rich tapestry of America’s favorite pastime, sprinkled with swashbuckling characters and steeped in tradition and superstition where the past often intersects the present.  I learned about the curse of Babe Ruth that was finally lifted in 2013 when the Boston Red Sox clinched their first World Series at Fenway park since 1918.  Through my explorations on Youtube, I was treated to the nostalgic visual imagery of the legends of the past playing at the historic Yankee Stadium – which was demolished just one month after Christian was born in 2008 to make way for the ultra modern “New Yankee Stadium” across the street.  My journey took me to the year of 1933 when Major League Baseball introduced the All Star Game in an effort to revive interest in a sport that was feeling the squeeze of the depression.  Both Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth played in the first All Star Game and Babe Ruth attended the Grand Opening of the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY in 1939.  Although Lou Gehrig  was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1939 at the age of 36, his induction was postponed due to wartime restrictions.  Gehrig was finally inducted to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2013, the first year since 1965 that there were no living inductees, primarily due to the fact that the majority of players on the ballot had achieved their greatness during the era of performance enhancing drugs.  When Alex Rodriguez shattered Lou Gehrig’s Grand Slam record in 2013, it was tainted by reports that he had used performance enhancing drugs. 

Pure luck has led our son to cross paths with Hall of Fame Manager, Tommy Lasorda who was born in 1927 during the Yankees best season of all time and legendary

pitcher Sandy Koufax who was born in 1935 at the height of Lou Gehrig’s career.  My exploration is only the tip of the iceberg relative to the cumulative history of baseball and its impact on American culture, but it has provided a timeless glimpse into the human condition and the meaning of life.  I never found an explanation as to why a baseball has 108 stitches and why a Catholic Rosary has 108 beads, but I did learn the importance of forgiveness and tolerance.  To quote Jackie Robinson, “A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives.”

I realize that the stories Christian has shared with us are stranger than fiction.  We still have a hard time wrapping our heads around the idea that our son was “a tall

Cathy, husband Michael Haupt, Christian, and  8 year old daughter Charlotte

Cathy, husband Michael Haupt, Christian, and 8 year old daughter Charlotte

baseball player” in a previous life.  The one thing that can’t be disputed is how our lives have been forever changed.  Christian’s passion for baseball has spread like wildfire in our family and today, even his German immigrant father who had never touched a bat or glove is somewhat addicted to those “bottom of the ninth, 2 outs, 2 strikes and the guy hits a game-winning homerun” moments.  Baseball has become the glue that binds us together and after countless hours on the little league fields, long drives to Dodger Stadium for beautiful sunsets, fresh air, catching foul balls at batting practice, Friday night fireworks, and more bobbleheads than we can fit in our house, we’ve learned to live in the moment a little more.   We find great pleasure in sharing the highs and lows of the passing seasons with our friends and family and the ultimate lesson seems to be that the battle fought and the lessons learned are far more significant than the victory and that a new season and fresh start are always right around the corner, whether it be in sports or in life.

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Cathy Bryd is a real estate broker in Westlake

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