LHJH’s Carson Riley catches ALCS home run

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Carson Riley, 12, caught three balls by arriving early during batting practice. (Courtesy Photo)

By KEITH SPARKS

Add 12-year-old Carson Riley’s home run catch during game two of the American League Championship Series to a list of signs that the Riley family says is just too extraordinary to be considered coincidental.

Mike Riley, father of Carson, the Liberty Hill seventh-grader who caught that home run on national television, and Cade, who was killed in an ATV crash just one month earlier, believes that Saturday’s events and those that transpired beforehand did so for a reason.

“The only reason we’re actually talking to people is, losing our son, we know that there was a bigger plan, and it was God’s plan,” Mike said. “For whatever reason, this happened. We’re not trying to sensationalize the story about either catching the ball or the passing of Cade, but I think it’s important to understand that there is a God, and if you just focus, he’ll appear.”

On Oct. 14, the Rileys arrived at game two of the ALCS earlier than most to watch batting practice, just so Carson could catch a ball. He caught three during batting practice, because, as his father said, “That’s what he wanted to do was catch a ball.” Little did he know, those three would be the least valuable, by far, of the baseballs he would catch that day.

The unforgettable experience that followed nearly went foul as word began to spread that the league was in the process of deciding whether or not Carson interfered with the ball while it was still in play by reaching over the outfield wall.

“The usher came down and was filling out what was basically an accident report,” Mike said, “just saying, ‘Were you injured? Do you need medical attention? What’s your contact number? Blah, blah, blah.’ We were talking to the usher and filling all that out when I happened to look up at one of the big screens, and I saw that the play was under review. That’s when I asked Carson, I said, ‘Carson, you didn’t stick your glove out there, did you?’ and he said, ‘No, no, no,’ then the usher asked him and he said no.”

Once the ball was ruled a home run with no interference, Mike said his son’s nervousness turned to excitement until the reporters began to swarm.

“We were pretty nervous, but it seemed like that whole deal didn’t take that long,” Mike said. “After they said it was a home run, I think he was fine, then he was excited. Then, almost immediately, all the reporters just swarmed around us, and it got a little hectic and he started getting nervous again. They were asking him if he knew who Jeffrey Maier was, if he knew who Bartman was. After all that kind of stuff, he was kind of like, ‘Oh my God, what did I do?’”

Jeffrey Maier and Steve Bartman were the subjects of two of the most famous cases of fan interference altering the course of a playoff game, both of which have long been well-known names in sports for all the wrong reasons. Carson was able to avoid similar recognition, but refused to speak to reporters at the stadium all the same.

“He’s painfully shy, sort of an introvert by nature, but he started really playing it up,” Mike said of his son, Carson. “Then he really got freaked out when they were asking him to come up to the top of the stairs and do TV interviews, and he said, ‘No way.’ He really didn’t talk to reporters or anything.”

In addition to a swarm of reporters, the Rileys had to fend off a few fellow fans that hoped to make Carlos Correa’s home run ball their own. One, in fact, offered to pay the Rileys up to $2,000 for it.

“There was a guy right beside us whose boss saw him on the screen, and he sent him a text message and was hounding us,” Mike said. “The guy offered us $2,000 for that baseball. I told him we weren’t interested.”

At the time of Carson’s catch, the Rileys weren’t aware of the significance it would hold with their own family or those who were watching the game, but after having an opportunity to reflect on all that has happened, they know it was more than just another home run.

“I think, looking back at it now, it really meant a lot,” Mike said. “It really meant a lot to all of us. I think, in hindsight, it was pretty remarkable. Of course, when it first happened, we didn’t think that much about it, but seeing how everybody’s responded has been pretty amazing.”

The Riley family has run into a number of signs that they’ve said are just too extraordinary to be coincidental. Among the most extraordinary of those was the sighting of two hats on a pair of young boys sitting right in front of the Rileys, one of which was embroidered with the name “Carson” and the other “Cade,” just a few rows ahead in a stadium that seats more than 41,000.

“Me and my wife were kind of just sitting there, and she wasn’t into it,” Mike said regarding the Astros’ batting practice. “She looked down and was just asking where our seats were, and I said, ‘Well, they’re right down there. We can go sit down whenever want.’ Then she happened to notice when somebody hit a ball, one of those kids ran up and he had the name ‘Cade’ on the side of his hat. When we went back down, she noticed right where our seats were, there was one boy’s that said ‘Cade’ and one boy’s that said ‘Carson.’ There’s been quite a few things like that that have happened that I don’t think a rational person can explain.”

During the days leading up to game two, the Rileys nearly decided to skip out on Saturday’s game, but, according to Mike, his wife was willing to tough out two straight Houston playoff games in order to spend time with her family.

“I think what it was was that she realized, after the events over the last month, that life is precious, and you only have so much time to spend together,” Mike said. “I think she just decided that you’ve got to spend as much time with your family as you can, because nothing’s guaranteed.”

An experience like Saturday’s might have sparked a further passion for baseball in the hearts of some, but Mike explained that it simply wouldn’t be possible for Carson, who already spends nearly every waking moment playing, watching, or thinking about baseball.

“That’s the other flip-side about that, is Carson is all 100 percent baseball,” he said. “Even though he’s only 12, he plays up and plays select, travel, whatever term you want to put on it. We probably spend close to 30 weekends out of the year following him around, watching him play baseball. That was kind of our whole life with Cade’s football and lacrosse, and Carson, he was 100 percent baseball. He’s played all around the country. He’s been a USSSA All-American twice, so for his age, already he’s a pretty accomplished baseball player. It’s his passion in life, so it’s like asking how you can get a fire any hotter.”

Since Cade’s passing on Sept. 16, members of the Liberty Hill High School baseball program have stepped up to the plate in a big way, both literally and figuratively speaking, by taking Carson to the high school fields to practice with them. According to Mike, that experience has meant the world to Carson, and has served as a “release” from the pain that life outside of baseball has thrown his way over the last few weeks.

“Chandler Freeman, Ryan Flake, Daniel Sykora, they go up to the high school fields with him and he works out with them, and I think that’s been one of the best things for him. They’ve kind of taken that role on as some kind of an older brother. That’s his release is to go and practice baseball with them,” Mike said.

After all that’s taken place since the nightmare that was Sept. 16, Mike simply wants to thank the Liberty Hill community for their overwhelming support. He knows it would be impossible to thank every single person that has reached out to his family in one way or another, but wants them to understand how much their support has helped.

“Through this whole experience, the Liberty Hill community, starting from the people here in this neighborhood, the people in the schools, both the high school and junior high, and almost everywhere in between, we’re still having people bring meals to us,” he said. “I keep saying the same sentence over and over again, but I truly believe that the support has been almost as overwhelming as the loss. It’s been absolutely unbelievable. It’s almost impossible to thank everybody that’s done everything, but it has been a very big blessing to us. The people bringing us meals, the people calling and checking on us. All of the employees at the school district have been nothing but supportive.”

After Saturday’s game two victory for the Astros, America’s pastime seems to have pitched in, too.

Sports@LHIndependent.com

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