In what has largely been a season to forget for the Estero High School baseball team, one of their players had a night to remember Thursday night.
And it had nothing to do with the game.
In a surprise ceremony before Thursday’s contest against Gulf Coast, Wildcats right fielder Ryan McGovern was asked by coach Gary White to head to home plate to receive the ceremonial first pitch from a mystery guest. That guest was McGovern’s grandfather, Tom, who had never seen his grandson play baseball live.
The Wildcats family had the surprise set up perfectly, with PA announcer Josh Stitgen not giving away the special guest until the perfect moment, when a visibly moved Ryan McGovern began to tear up a bit behind home plate.
“I was shocked,” Ryan McGovern said. “I had no idea, big surprise. It was awesome.”
Tom McGovern lives in Columbus, Ohio, and has been battling health problems for years. After Thursday night’s ceremony, he said he simply wanted to make it down for one of Ryan’s games before he graduated later this year. He’s followed his grandson’s results religiously online through the years and reads whatever articles he can find online about Estero baseball.
“This was very emotional,” Tom McGovern said. “I just wanted to get down here and see him play before it was all over with. That’s the reason I’m here and I’m proud to be here.”
The beaming grandfather couldn’t stop gushing about his grandson just prior to Thursday night’s game.
“He was the best little boy ever,” Tom said. “Of course, every grandpa probably says that – best grandson in the world. But he really is.”
Ryan was still a bit emotional after the game when talking about how much his grandfather means to him.
“He’s the best, I love him, I love him a lot, I’m speechless right now still,” he said. “He’s just always been there for me. He’s had my back from Day One and encouraged me. He’s just been there for me whenever I’ve needed him.”
The wheels were set in motion for Thursday’s special event last week before the Wildcats’ away game at Barron Collier. Before that contest, Ryan’s dad — also named Tom — approached Estero coach Gary White.
“He told me the grandpa was coming down and that believe it not, he had never seen Ryan play,” White recalled. “He asked me if Ryan would still be in the lineup, and I assured him he would, and that’s kind of where it ended with Mr. McGovern and I. About an hour into our game against Barron Collier, it was eating at me just thinking about it, so we came up with a plan.”
With McGovern arriving at the field at 6 p.m., White knew he had to hide him somewhere to ensure Ryan wouldn’t find out early. So as Estero took batting and fielding practice, Tom was hiding up in the press box. The plan worked, and the tender moment provided the Wildcats with something positive during an uncharacteristic 4-14 season.
“Some things are bigger than baseball,” White said. “We could be 14-4 or 4-14, it doesn’t matter. Half our kids were in tears for sure. When someone asks me what I’ll remember about the class of 2018, I’ll tell them we had a lot of great kids. Sure, it’s been a tough season, but man, that moment with the McGoverns is something I’ll take with me for the rest of my life.”