SYMMES TWP. — There is a gift given only by faith. All that’s asked in return is belief.
Griffan Smith knows of faith. He understands faith because life has demanded that he understand it.
Smith, a 6-foot-3 senior left-handed pitcher, helped lift Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy High School’s baseball team to the state semifinals. Their run ultimately ended in a 2-1 eight-inning loss June 1 to the No. 1 team in the state, but he uplifted much more than his team.
Griffan gave his father, Alan, who’s currently in a longstanding fight with cancer, an immeasurable gift.
The day before the playoffs started, Alan, diagnosed about 15 years ago with metastatic melanoma, was admitted to the hospital.
“Turns out, I was pretty sick, sicker than I thought I was,” said Alan, who spent five days in the ICU. “I thought it was just a dehydration issue but it was much broader than that. Multiple organs were involved that were beginning to shut down in sequence.
“Some of the data (doctors) gathered, they were telling Joyce and I, ‘You shouldn’t be coherent at this point in time’ because my glucose level in my blood dove down below 30 and my ammonia level was high and both of those are life threatening. Things started happening really, really fast at that point in time. They still are puzzled as to what exactly happened. I’ve got congestive heart failure, a weak kidney performance, a weak liver performance. I had a liter and a half of fluid taken out of my right lung and somehow the good Lord above brought me through that.”
Griffan was scheduled to start the next night in a sectional tournament game May 10.
“I got a text Tuesday night from my mom (Joyce), she said come down and see him cause he’s going into the ICU,” said Griffan. “I was at the hospital until like 2 a.m. (the day of the game). My mom said I might not be able to go to school, so if that was the case, I wouldn’t have been able to play.”
Griffan went home to sleep, but before he did — before he woke up that morning to a text saying his dad was feeling okay, and he could go to school and play that night — Griffan spoke briefly with his father.
“I talked to him and he was doing really good when I talked to him,” Griffan said. “I told him I was gonna throw him a perfect game.”
The next time he spoke to his dad, Griffan told him, “I kept my promise. I threw a perfect game for ya.” He struck out 11 of the 15 Riverview East batters he faced in a five-inning win.
“I told him, ‘I did that for you,’” Griffan said. “Playing for someone other than yourself, you get that fire in you — that was the spark.”
When Griffan told his dad the news, he said, “He seemed like he was a little out of it, under some medication so he texted me (the next day) and said he was very proud of me. He said he’s gonna keep battling and hopefully, he can come out and see the next game.”
CHCA head baseball coach Tony Schulz, made aware of the situation, had to make a decision.
“He was scheduled to start the game and then dad goes in the hospital the night before, late,” said Schulz. “He’s texting me that night, giving me updates, and the last thing I wanted on his mind was the next day’s game — focus on your family. Next morning, I get a text from his mom and his mom said that he got a good night’s sleep and dad was doing a little better, then she says he definitely wants to pitch still. He wants to throw a perfect game for his dad. And I’m like, ‘Oh man, you gotta be kidding me.’
“At that time, I’m still not sure if I want to start him … it’s an emotional night and a tournament game. I wasn’t sure. I get to the locker room and I see him in there and as soon as I was able to look into his eyes, I knew he was starting.”
Schulz continued, “The funny thing is our pitching coach, who’s down with him in the bullpen and calling pitches for the game, the second batter of the game — cause Griffan looked pretty good — coach turns to me and goes, ‘He’s gonna throw a perfect game today.’ And I hadn’t said anything about what his mom told me or shared anything about that. He was just so laser focused. It was pretty special. Knowing what I knew from the night before and what he’d been through … it was pretty emotional for him.”
Two of Griffan’s three older brothers (Ryan, 20, and Jordan, 22) were at the game and tackled him, too, like older brothers do.
Joyce said when she asked her husband if he was upset that he missed the perfect game, or Griffan’s complete-game shutout in a 1-0 district championship win May 20, Alan, with a calm certainty, told his wife, “There will be more games.”
He was right.
An unforgettable run
Since he was just a boy, Griffan’s watched his dad fight cancer. Surgery and tests. Hospitalizations and scares. Remissions and recurrences. So far, life’s been a lesson in heartache, but instead of retreating or complaining, Griffan has persevered in spite of pain and uncertainty.
Alan said the melanoma, “Appeared on my shoulder; we took care of it. We thought there would be no further repercussions, and one of the spots turned out to be a little bit deeper than the others and there was a spread found later on. So … it was discovered and then there was a period of remission and it came back.”
Joyce said, “I’ve told Alan this, the words ‘grit’ and ‘tenacity’ keep coming back to me. You learn some of that through adversity and Griffan’s been the youngest of four boys and so he’s had to watch Alan be sick and live with that more than the others because one has moved out and the other two are at college. Of course, they all love their dad dearly, but Griffan’s really had to live with it.
“This (playoff) run, I see a different kid. I think he’s had to dig deep and … my goodness, you’re taking an adverse situation and you are totally just dialed in. It’s really cool.”
Griffan didn’t just throw a perfect game for his dad; he helped manufacture a postseason run that allowed a father to watch his son play baseball again. Fathers will always want to watch their sons play baseball, and sons will always want to make their fathers proud.
Alan, who returned home from the hospital May 19, watched Griffan throw the final two games of his high school career. He saw his son mow down Fredericktown in another complete-game performance in a regional semifinal win on May 25.
“Tonight was beautiful,” Alan said after the regional semifinal. “They couldn’t touch him.”
Joyce saw her son dig deep, knowing his dad was there watching.
“Don’t forget about faith,” she said. “I know it’s what’s carrying him through. He’s very mature in his faith as an 18-year-old. Again, what do you do when you face adversity? You lean on the Lord. That’s where he’s had to go.”
The four games Griffan pitched following his dad’s hospitalization, he went 3-1 with 38 strikeouts, a perfect game, and he only allowed two earned runs in 26 innings. Griffan’s handled success and adversity the same way: with strength and humility.
“It definitely puts it into perspective,” said Griffan. “All the little things you worry about when you think about something like your dad going through cancer and you realize, ‘Wow, all the other stuff I’m worried about seems irrelevant.’ Him having cancer … I’ve always felt pretty positive about it and being a Christian, I trust the plan that God has for him and my family.
“So where some people would pray like, ‘God, why are you doing this to my family? Why are you doing this to me?’ For me, it wasn’t like that at all. It was more like this is life, maybe it’s part of the world we live in. It really hasn’t made me sad or depressed … I’ve stayed up.”
This month, Alan and Joyce will celebrate 29 years of marriage. They met as students at Ohio State University. All three of Griffan’s older brothers — Ian, Jordan and Ryan — either graduated or currently attend Ohio State. Griffan will be a Buckeye, too, and he hopes to try and walk-on the baseball team.
Speaking about his youngest son and the gift of getting to watch him play, there’s pride in Alan’s voice, and occasionally, emotion takes over.
“You know, I think he thinks about me in the back of his mind,” Alan said. “He doesn’t always verbalize it. It’s in the back of his mind what I’ve been through and what I continue to go through.
“I’m very proud of him.”