What Independence resident Jason Stillwell had to go through nearly two years ago was disheartening to say the very least.
On Jan. 10, 2018 his father David’s vehicle was found abandoned on the Missouri 291 bridge at the Missouri River.
“He’s been on the missing registry for 561 days now,” Stillwell said in an interview on July 25. “I am not sure what happened. You think you know what happened, but you really don’t.”
While he’s waiting to find out, Stillwell is making a positive out of a negative situation. Everywhere he goes, he carries two baseball gloves and a baseball. He plans to play catch with at least one person every day for 365 consecutive days. Currently, he is on Day 109. Sometimes he plays catch with people he knows. Other times, it’s a complete stranger.
So why is he doing this? His reason is simple.
“It’s making the world a little bit better and making someone smile that day,” said Stillwell, who also played catch with former William Chrisman football coach Scorpio Horn on Day 93. “When I ask someone, ‘When is the last time you played catch?’ They say, ‘Several years ago.’”
“You see the smile on their face when you get to throwing the ball back and forth. They can be having a bad day. I see some of the basketball gym (at Genesis Health Club in Independence) get frustrated. Scorpio was frustrated one day passing the ball, and I said, ‘Hey, let’s play catch real quick.’”
Whether he is visiting places in his free time or traveling for work, Stillwell finds someone to play catch with. He posts a picture of himself and whoever he plays catch with on his Facebook and Instagram pages. He calls it “Catching Up.” He posts where they played catch and his thought about it. Stillwell also posts a word of the day and at the end he lists the phone number for the Suicide Prevention Hotline (1-800-273-8255), as he is trying to raise awareness for those in crisis.
“I’ve had a few friends call me and talk to me who were going through some rough times,” Stillwell said. “I give them some advice and the hotline number.”
The first person her played catch with was his son, Logan.
“I couldn’t wait to play catch with him. It’s one of my favorite things to do,” said Stillwell, who is also a part of the Fort Osage High School Booster Club. “I never played baseball but I played catch as a kid.”
He even got to play catch with current and former Major League Baseball players, including Royals first baseman Ryan O’Hearn. Still asked him to play catch during an autograph session.
“One of my posts I had the hashtag, ‘#IwanttoplaycatchwithRyanOHearn,’” Stillwell said. “I also wanted to play with Lucas Duda. It’s always a first baseman.”
“I was in an autograph line, and I pulled out my phone and showed him my picture and showed him my hashtag. And he said, ‘Why don’t we play right now?’ Everyone kind of stopped when we started playing catch behind the table.”
Also, while he was in San Diego on a business trip, he went to a game at Petco Park, home of the Padres. While there, he ran into Padres broadcaster and former relief pitcher Tim Stauffer. He played catch with him as well.
“I asked him after the broadcast, and said, ‘Can we play catch real quick?’ Stillwell said. “And everyone just stopped. Then he asked me what I was doing. And I told him my story.”
You can follow Stillwell on Instagram at @jstillwell75.
“I live my life from sunrise to sunset, trying to make the world a better place,” Stillwell said. “I want to make people smile. I offer my story to them. You always get past your worst days. Let’s just keep going.”