Although Sue Meyer’s ceremonial first pitch was a bit off the target to her husband John, the former longtime Blue Springs Post 499 Fike pitching coach made a request Wednesday night at the opening ceremonies of the 26th annual American Legion Wood Bat Invitational at Hidden Valley Park.
“This is Sue's night,” John said, “so can you make that first pitch a strike in your story?”
Done – it was a 95 mph fastball that nearly ripped the glove off John's hand.
“John told me that he was going to throw the pitch and I was going to be the catcher,” the feisty Sue said, “and I told him I can't bend over and there's no way I'm getting behind the plate to catch a pitch. We decided he should do it.”
Sue has been associated with the Wood Bat Invitational the past 16 years, serving as Fike's official scorekeeper the past 13 years and working the front gate, grilling Fike burgers or doing anything else tournament co-creator and Fike manager Jim Moran has asked.
John was Fike's pitching coach from 2000 to 2013, stepping down before the start of this season.
They are two latest members of the American Legion Wood Bat Invitational Hall of Fame.
“I can't think of a more deserving couple,” said Moran, who wanted to surprise the Meyers with their honor, so he convinced them to take part in the ceremonial first pitch. “Everyone who has ever attended this tournament knows Sue and John has been such an important part of our team since 2000.”
When Moran presented them the plaque on the main field at Hidden Valley, Sue broke into tears. John simply smiled.
“When you win something like this, it just means you're an old (man),” John said, grinning. “I'm happy for Sue, because this is special for both of us – but it is really special for Sue.”
As she cried at home plate, Fike players and coaches shouted out from the infield area, “We love you Sue.”
That brought on more tears.
“Our son Josh started playing for Fike in 1999, and we've been a part of the team ever since,” Sue said. “I loved watching my son pitch. Now, all the boys are the team are my boys.”
Neither Sue nor John could come up with one defining moment over the years of their association with Fike.
“I do remember the night (future ”American Idol” winner and Blue Springs South graduate) David Cook got hit by a line drive when he was pitching,” Sue said. “He was a bit of a prima donna, and we thought he was OK – his mom, Beth, didn't even come out of her seat in the stands.
“But he didn't get up – so we knew it was real. Thank goodness he wasn't really hurt.”
John said his association with the Fike players and coaches have made the past 15 years special.
“I miss the boys, but you know when it's time to walk away,” John said, “and it was the right time for me to walk away.”
SCHOLARSHIP WINNERS: The voting was too close to call for the Jimmy Meyer American Legion Memorial Scholarship, so two winners were announced at the opening ceremonies.
Brandon Bennefeld of the Blue Springs Rod's Sports Athletics was named an honorary winner and received a $500 scholarship and Fike's Alex Smith won the $1,000 scholarship, which is named after a young man who was killed by a drunk driver in 1996.
“To win this scholarship is so special, especially since it's named in honor of Jimmy Meyer,” Smith said. “It means so much to the Meyer family, and I can use the money. This is great.”
Jimmy's uncle, Marty Meyer of Meyer Funeral Home, presented the two players with their scholarships.