Share “Johnny Bench Tournament is not like any...”

Johnny Bench Tournament is not like any other; it's for Caleb Spady

The tournament is not played because of its namesake. Not because of its history. No, the three-day tournament that starts Monday is special because of a relationship forged between a pro ball player and a kid with brain cancer, a friendship that defied age and sickness and even death.
by Jenni Carlson Published: June 29, 2014
Advertisement

photo -  
                 Reggie Willits and Caleb Spady on the day that they met in 2008. 
                   Photo provided
Reggie Willits and Caleb Spady on the day that they met in 2008. Photo provided

The Johnny Bench Tournament is one of the many baseball tournaments taking place around the state this summer.

But it’s not like any other.

Not because of its namesake. Not because of its history. No, the three-day tournament that starts Monday is special because of a relationship forged between a pro ball player and a kid with brain cancer, a friendship that defied age and sickness and even death.

It started back in September 2008.

Reggie Willits was an outfielder with the Angels, a Fort Cobb product living his baseball dream but staying rooted in Caddo County. His family and his wife’s family were there. His offseason home was there. So when he heard about a boy from nearby Hinton doing a Make-A-Wish trip to the Angels-Rangers game, Willits wanted to meet him.

Caleb Spady seemed a bit shy as Willits took him around the clubhouse that day, but Willits really liked the 10-year-old.

Still …

“I honestly thought that was probably the end of it,” Willits said.

A few weeks later, Willits was talking to his mom. A story she’d seen about Caleb explained that he had diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma, or DIPG, meaning the cancer was sprinkled throughout his brain. Surgery wasn’t an option, and radiation treatments left him with blisters, some the size of oranges.

Still, Caleb kept trying to play ball.

As soon as Willits’ season was over, he called Caleb’s family — would they come for dinner and maybe some fun in his indoor batting cage?

Soon, the two families were gathered around Willits’ table. That night, Caleb explained how he endured the pain and the fear.

“I feel like God is in control,” he said. “He has a plan for my life.”

In that moment, Willits realized that while he thought he’d been helping Caleb, it was actually the other way around.

“He made a bigger impact in my life than I could’ve ever made in his,” Willits said. “He just showed me how to really live that Christian life, to really show that love of Christ and that peace and joy that can only come from that relationship.

Continue reading this story on the...

by Jenni Carlson
Columnist
Jenni Carlson, a sports columnist at The Oklahoman since 1999, came by her love of sports honestly. She grew up in a sports-loving family in Kansas. Her dad coached baseball and did color commentary on the radio for the high school football...
+ show more


Trending Now


AROUND THE WEB

  1. 1
    Big 12 basketball: OKC to host 2017 NCAA Women's Tournament Regional
  2. 2
    'Kissing disease' outbreak closes Oklahoma school district
  3. 3
    Criticized over comment, Ray Merrick expresses appreciation for state workers
  4. 4
    Monty Python Finally Says Goodbye
  5. 5
    Has 'Darwin's Dilemma' Finally Been Solved?
+ show more