Pound Ridge local, Kennedy Catholic '15/Yale University '19, Detroit Tigers 2019 Draft Pick, writes about chasing the dream... along with, Curt Casali, New Canaan local and Cincinnati Reds Catcher, Richard Slenker, Pound Ridge local and former Houston Astros draft pick, and Henry Davis, Fox Lane alum, current Louisville slugger, and pro prospect.
I never would have imagined that I would be living at my childhood home in Pound Ridge for the entire first half of 2020, without having competed in a single baseball game over that time. After graduating from Yale University in May 2019, I was on my way to begin my professional baseball career as the Detroit Tigers’ 23rd Round Draft Pick. Life couldn’t have been better – I had a one-way ticket to pursue my lifelong dream.
Being drafted by a Major League organization was the culmination of over a decade’s worth of work. Academics and athletics were the centerpiece of my entire upbringing, as I developed in both capacities at Kennedy Catholic and eventually made my way to Yale University to study Political Science and Economics and play first-base.
Only two weeks after signing with the Tigers and only two games as a Minor Leaguer, I tore my ACL and my professional career came to a grinding halt. That same one-way ticket to the world of professional baseball quickly turned into a one-way ticket back to my childhood home. I spent the following eight months working with the New York Yankees’ team of doctors and rehab specialists to regain the strength and mobility that had slipped away in an instant, all while looking forward to the day that I could retake the field for the Tigers.
March 2020, I finally, and somewhat triumphantly, returned to the Detroit Tigers’ Spring Training complex in Lakeland, Florida, to begin what was supposed to be my first full season of professional baseball. Not even two weeks later, and barely settled into new living arrangements, all Major and Minor League players were sent home as the start of the 2020 season was suspended indefinitely due to COVID-19. I packed up my belongings and again, headed back to Pound Ridge, with another one-way ticket in hand. I couldn’t help but feel anger and frustration towards the second abrupt and unexpected delay to my professional baseball career... although this time, every player’s career, at every level, was also on hold.
I am aware of the fact that competing in professional baseball is a one-in-a-million opportunity that many strive towards but few achieve. Amazingly, I am in great company around the local area. Curt Casali, Richard Slenker, Henry Davis, and myself all shared the dream of becoming Major League Baseball players while growing up playing Little League in New Canaan, Bedford, and Pound Ridge. It is incredible that having grown up in such close proximity to one another, three out of the four of us have already had the experience of playing for a Major League organization, and Henry is on his way.
Henry Davis is beginning his junior year at The University of Louisville. He was a top prospect from Fox Lane High School, and a two-time All-State Baseball selection. In roughly one and a half seasons at Louisville, Henry cemented himself as the team’s everyday catcher, and most recently was leading the team in three major offensive categories when the 2020 season was cut short after only 17 games. For Henry and other talented collegiate players who haven’t yet entered the realm of professional baseball, the cancellation of spring and summer seasons precludes them from showcasing their skills in front of professional scouts until March 2021, placing greater emphasis on their limited time window of performance prior to the draft in June 2021. Nevertheless, given Henry’s work ethic and impressive statistics against the country’s best talents in the Atlantic Coast Conference, he is already highly regarded by Major League scouts.
Whether or not this is the case for all MLB players, the four of us have come to realize over the years that in order for our dreams to materialize, they had to be shared and embraced by those in our support systems. Though each of us has worked tirelessly on a personal basis from Little League to our college and professional careers, it is undeniable that we each owe a large majority of our success to the unwavering support, encouragement, and constructive criticism of our parents, siblings and coaches. Being there in the cheering section of our Little League games and nation-wide recruiting circuits that replaced summer vacations, and living through our demanding collegiate seasons and the unpredictable nature of playing for a Major League organization, our families have been the rock and foundation of our lives. “My family really put me in a great position going into college,” said Curt, “my mom was the one who played catch with me when my dad was out of town on business, and my dad was the one throwing whiffle balls to me in our basement when it was too cold to go outside in Connecticut.” What’s truly special, is that our parents gave us every opportunity to chase our childhood dream.
My childhood home, my parents and sisters, and the town of Pound Ridge have been comforting sources of reliability as I face the unfortunate reality of another suspension to my professional career due to COVID-19. Life over the past couple of months has been uncharacteristically slow for all baseball players since the absence of competition in the spring and summer seasons is an unprecedented reality. “It’s the longest layoff without baseball I've ever had in my life,” said Curt. When asked how he has been coping with the time off, he explained that the delay has been difficult, but he has managed to find various silver linings, which include spending quality time with his wife, his golf clubs, and his Peloton bike.
Major League Baseball’s 60-game season for 2020 meant a return to baseball for Curt and 750 other Major League players… even though it won’t be without significant changes, namely empty stadiums and increased restrictions to safeguard players, coaches, and administrators. The reality for Minor League Baseball isn’t as promising, however, as the entire 2020 Minor League season has been cancelled, leaving more than 7,500 players sidelined until March 2021. Despite a full calendar year without baseball, this period away from the game offers players at all levels the perspective to appreciate our support systems and the time to prepare for the day when we are able to retake the field for our respective teams. For me, despite the fact that life since graduating from Yale has been anything but expected, I feel extremely fortunate for the continued opportunity to pursue my dream, and for my home and family in Pound Ridge.
By: Kathleen & Caroline McCown
Kathleen is a Communications Consultant. She is a former Director of Public Affairs for a Fortune 500 corporation and the recipient of several awards for excellence in communication. She has served on the Boards of the Pound Ridge Library and St. Luke's School.
In time, the Covid crisis will pass. Life will find a new rhythm. But we will never forget the fear, the isolation, the loss. We will never forget ventilators, face masks, hand sanitizers, frontline heroes, Andrew Cuomo’s briefings that became must see tv. We will always remember staying in... to stay out of the hospital.
Living together again has been a once-in-a-lifetime gift. When else would my millennial children settle back into the rooms of their childhood for more than a weekend or brief holiday visit? Covid returned all of us to the comfort and safety of Pound Ridge. We picked up from where we left off, before the children departed home. It was this mother’s dream.
Our home is open-armed in accommodating our needs – space for working, for working out and “vegging out,” for reading and writing, for cooking with and for each other. Space to Zoom. Space for Jack’s wonderful dog, Taz, to run free. Most important, the house holds us close. Days are filled with work commitments, home projects, checking in on family and friends, keeping up with Covid news. In the evenings we come together for dinners that last longer than the meal. We indulge in every dinner table talk taboo. We argue about politics and religion. We are presumptive and pepper each other with personal questions. We laugh with and, yes, at each other.
While the world closed down to Covid, in Pound Ridge nature opened up. ‘Going out’ once meant enjoying a cappuccino at Kitchen Table, dining at The Inn at Pound Ridge, shopping on Elm Street in New Canaan, catching a film at The Bedford Playhouse, racing to the City. Now, ‘going out’ means a walk or a drive.
First the forsythia woke up, then the daffodils, finally the deciduous trees. Black branches against gray skies receded behind masses of green against blue. The two lane roads that tie Westchester and Fairfield towns together in our neck of the woods, invited us to come out. And so we did. We rode by old haunts, walked familiar trails, discovered new ones. From the horse farms of Bedford and the openness of Pound Ridge to the more cultivated streets of New Canaan, all roads boast beauty. Without the usual demands of time and commitments we traverse those roads slowly, thoughtfully. We feel them as they curve, arch upward and relax down. Surprises reward us. “Look – a fox!” “Did you see the hawk?” “Turkeys!” “I never noticed that cottage tucked back by the pond.” “I never noticed the pond!”
By looking outward, we looked inward. So much of what we see – how each of us looks at the world, how each of us determines what’s of value – is through the lense of living here. Appreciation of nature, community, family – all largely honed by our life in Pound Ridge.
Covid has taken many of the world’s freedoms, but at home it gives us time. Time for my husband and I to be with our newly adult children before they’re absorbed by families of their own. Time to see them as grown-ups against vivid recollections of them at home growing up. Time to appreciate all of it.
Months later...still stuck in Pound Ridge. No trips back to Philly. Travel entails exposure to potential infection that could put my virus-vulnerable family at risk. A long weekend in Philly, disregarding expert advice to stay put, could mean weeks of solitary confinement. So, for the sake of my sanity, frontline workers, Dr. Fauci, and my mom, I remain at home, and learn to live a new life of Covid confinement.
Pre-Covid, my morning routine consisted of ‘getting cute’ (cue: blow drying hair; applying mascara and gloss; dressing in whatever imbued my psyche with confidence) before buying an overpriced oat milk latte and embarking on a walking commute from my hotel to my client’s offices. Now, at home, my morning routine consists of brushing my teeth (always), brushing my hair (usually), changing into non-sleeping sweatpants (sometimes), and descending the stairs to drink Keurig coffee and watch Morning Joe with my pajama clad dad (always).
Pre-Covid, socializing consisted of going out with friends to explore the cities that we were lucky to share. In Covid confinement, socializing consists of Zoom, Facetime, jackbox.tv, and joint NYTimes crossword sessions.
And most of all, pre-Covid, staying in touch with family meant texts and calls to catch up on each other’s news. In the omnipresence of Covid confinement, my family’s news is my news too, and visa versa. For a long time, we saw only each other in person, everyone else on screen.
My life at home is:
I only half-joke that it can be sometimes suffocating. The reality is that coming home to my family in Pound Ridge is some kind of wonderful.
One activity I’ll never forget is enduring a 9+ hour Godfather movie marathon in one protracted sitting to satisfy my mom’s desire for me and my brother to be sufficiently versed in cinema classics. When the final closing credits rolled, my mom looked at me and asked, “Ladybug, wouldn’t you like some buttered noodles?” She gave me a hug and every bit of my twenty-five-year-old independence melted in her embrace. I couldn’t help thinking – ‘just when I thought I was out, they pulled me back in’.
It’s impossible to know now what the cost of being pulled back will be. When the virus ripped through the fabric of life, I was extremely fortunate that my family pulled me back, to be all together, in Pound Ridge. Our home is perfect for shelter-in-place. I know I’ll be forever thankful for all of it.
I also know that I can’t wait to get back to the life I put on hold. I can’t wait to say “Yes” again...but not to my mom...to my life – the one I was just beginning.