My nine-year-old son Jake has a friend named Ryan. For the last few years, Jake has followed Ryan's career as a star high school baseball and basketball player. We live on the street that leads to our local high school, so Jake and his dad walk up the hill to watch every game that's played at the school. And like both his grandfathers, my son has never met a stranger. He makes friends everywhere we go just by taking the time to have a chat with someone he finds interesting.
After every game, Jake would wait patiently for the opportunity to shake hands with Ryan and to compliment his performance on the field or court. Ryan always made time for Jake, and over the years, the two became friends. Ryan was heavily recruited as a standout athlete and was offered an athletic scholarship to Vanderbilt University in Nashville earlier this year. He went to visit the school, and brought back T-shirts for all his friends. We noticed the high school boys wearing the shirts on a Saturday morning this past winter when they were serving as officials in Jake's youth basketball league. That afternoon, Jake and his dad went to watch the varsity team play a home game. As always, Jake waited to say hello to Ryan after the game. "Hey, buddy," Ryan said. "Come here. I've got something for you." He handed Jake a yellow, kid-sized Vanderbilt T-shirt. Jake was thrilled and overwhelmed by the gesture (in fact, a few days later, I had to take the shirt off him to wash it!). We have a great photo of the two of them together that Jake will cherish forever.
In June, Ryan Westmoreland graduated from high school and was drafted by the Boston Red Sox. Yes, you read that right. The home team came a'calling, and Ryan faced the decision of a lifetime. Around town, people debated the pros and cons. What should he do? Go to college? Say yes to the Sox? What if he gets hurt in college? What if, what if? It was a tough decision, but a win-win no matter how you looked at it. Last week came the word that he had accepted a five-year, $2 million deal with the Sox. Jake was thrilled for his friend. Jake's parents were thrilled to see a nice, down-to-earth kid come out on top. Later this summer, Ryan is expected to play for a Red Sox farm team in Lowell, Massachusetts, which is about two hours from our house. Jake and his dad will be there, and Jake will hope for the chance to say hello, and to let Ryan know that one of his biggest fans is still thrilled to watch him play the game they both love.
In announcing the deal with the Sox, The Providence Journal's headline said "Sox Are Getting a Man of Character in Westmoreland." We couldn't agree more.