In a Reds season of mostly sweetness and light, maybe the sweetest and lightest thing of all happened on Aug. 17.
|Reds equipment manager Rick Stowe made a deal with Ted that he could take off his helmet when the Reds took the field as Ted hung out in the dugout. / The Enquirer/Jeff Swin|
A young man with Down syndrome who really wasn’t supposed to be the batboy – not in the typical sense of the word, anyway – put some spring in the Reds’ steps.
The remarkable thing wasn’t that Teddy Kremer retrieved bats and foul balls and brought baseballs to the home plate umpire, it is that he did it with such aplomb, gusto and unbridled joy.
“They all could tell that Teddy is a guy who never has a bad day. How can you not love a guy like that?”
But if you know Ted – that’s what he likes being called, even though everybody calls him Teddy – it wasn’t remarkable at all.
Teddy was just being himself.
When Cheryl gave birth to Teddy, she was told the next day by the doctor that her son would likely never smile, probably wouldn’t talk, might not walk, and would never have more than a 40 IQ.
Those were tough words to hear, but Cheryl and her husband, Dave, were both in education, and they weren’t about to let what somebody said turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy.
By two weeks old, Teddy got occupational therapy at the pediatrician’s office so that he wouldn’t be floppy-legged. By five weeks, he was exposed to music at the Breyer School in Colerain Township, to which he clapped his hands, and looked in the mirror and was taught to look up, to strengthen his neck muscles.
By 13 months, he was in speech therapy, and soon he was matching colors and being taught to play with toys. Shortly after that, a teacher told the Kremers to “take him out, because Down syndrome kids mimic what they see, and if they don’t see it, they aren’t going to progress.”
By age 3, he was included in the regular classes at Mercy Montessori in East Walnut Hills, and he began swimming. And, oh, did Teddy Kremer progress. He walked, he talked, he smiled broadly. His personality began to emerge. By 7 he was swimming for the Mercy team.
At 16, he enrolled at Colerain High – again, in classes right along with the other kids, math and science and social studies and home economics and keyboarding at the vocational program – and competed on the swim team (“freestyle and backstroke,” he recalls, proudly) and was named student-coach on the teams for baseball and football, including the state grid champions in 2004. He rides horses on Monday nights, plays softball on Tuesday nights, does ballroom dancing on Wednesday nights, swims on Saturdays.
“I’ve always been around athletes my whole life,” he says.
He does clerical work three days a week at Hillcrest School in Springfield Township. He reads The Enquirer, follows closely the local sports team, knows as much if not more about them than anybody. He’s a diehard, easily reduced to sobs by an ill-timed loss.
So, when his parents attended a fundraiser last March at Mercy Montessori where the children of Phil Castellini, the Reds chief operations officer, attended, and they saw that one of the silent auction items was a night as a Reds batboy, they couldn’t resist.
Yes, the opportunity was listed for “age 15 to 19.” They asked Castellini if Teddy might be considered.
“He’s 29, but he acts like he’s 15 sometimes,” Cheryl explained.
“Put in your bid, and if it wins,” Phil promised Cheryl, “we’ll make it happen.”
'HOW CAN YOU NOT LOVE A GUY LIKE THAT?'
On Aug. 5, the Kremers were asked to come to Great American Ball Park so that Ted could meet Phil Castellini and Reds equipment manager Rick Stowe.
Before that, Stowe had met with Castellini’s executive assistant, Diana Busam.
Stowe is a warm, effervescent, fun-loving guy, but he’s also steeped in the rituals of the clubhouse and dugout, and he wondered aloud about the wisdom of injecting anything offbeat into it. The Reds had done honorary batboys before games, but rarely during it, maybe once or twice a year tops, he told The Enquirer.
“C’mon, Diana, we’re not going to start a three-ring circus out there, are we?” asked Stowe. “We’re in a pennant race.”
“Let’s just see first,” Busam replied. “Let’s meet him and see where we are.”
Luke Stowe – Rick’s son and the team’s regular batboy – gave Ted a tour of the stadium. They happened upon one of the Reds broadcasters.
“Oh my God – Jim Kelch!” blurted out Ted, giving Kelch a hug.
Ted also met Marty Brennaman.
“You look pretty good without hair,” Ted told him.
Ted walked by the Reds’ video room and saw a familiar face inside.
“Hey, Brook Jacoby!” Ted exclaimed, giving him a hug.
Luke gave Reds officials – including his dad – the big thumbs-up on Ted as batboy.
Meanwhile, the Reds players wanted to know, hey, who’s the new kid on the block?
“Teddy already knew everybody, apparently from what he’d read and seen on TV,” Rick Stowe said. “Drew Stubbs fell in love with him. Todd Frazier, Brandon (Phillips), Wilson Valdez, Heisey, Bruce, Votto, Dusty (Baker). Everybody. They all could tell that Teddy is a guy who never has a bad day. How can you not love a guy like that?”
Ted was outside the Reds clubhouse talking to Phil Castellini when another man approached. Cheryl Kremer didn’t recognize him.
“Mr. Castellini!” Ted exclaimed, holding out his hand and introducing himself to Bob Castellini, the Reds chief executive officer.
“You’re doing a great job with the ballclub,” Ted told the Reds owner.
ENJOY LIFE, BE YOURSELF AND PLAY HARD
On the night of Aug. 17, the Kremers returned to the ballpark. Dave and Cheryl didn’t know quite what to expect.
Ted had a few questions.
“Mr. Stowe, do I have to wear this helmet?”
Rick Stowe: “How about this, Teddy? I’ll make you a deal. You wear that helmet when we’re up to bat. When the other team’s batting, you can sit on the bench with the players, and you don’t have to wear the helmet.”
During the national anthem, Dave and Cheryl stood with hands over thumping hearts as Teddy stood between Reds manager Dusty Baker and outfielder Chris Heisey outside the Reds dugout. The Kremers watched as Ted mistakenly removed his Reds cap with his left hand and held the cap over his heart.
“The other hand,” Heisey said softly, as Ted picked up the cue and moved his right hand to the cap, and repositioned it over his heart.
On his right arm was a black wristband, a gift from Todd Frazier.
When it came time to go out for the pregame meeting to exchange lineups, Dusty Baker didn’t tell Teddy what was up.
All he said was, “Bring these four balls to the umpire, Teddy.”
And that is how Ted found himself at home plate, with Baker’s arm around him and Baker introducing him to the umpires, shaking their hands one-by-one, a big grin on his face. Ted’s parents looked on in wonder.
Early in the game, Ted went out to retrieve a bat. Who should pass Ted on the way back to the dugout than No. 4, Brandon Phillips, on his way to the plate. Ted gave him a hard high five, causing Phillips to bat with a grin as Ted continued on his way to bat rack.
Whose bat was it, Ted? Ted mentally flipped through the Reds batting order that night, which was the order so many nights when Votto was out with a knee injury.
“Let’s see,” he pondered. “Cozart ... Stubbs ... Phillips. It was Stubbs’ bat, the second hitter.”
Later, Phillips explained his delight over Ted’s exuberance.
“People are blessed in their own way,” said the Reds second baseman. “Teddy came in here and blessed us with his energy and his presence that day: Enjoy life, be yourself, go out and play hard. Give it all you got. That’s Teddy. He’s a reminder to us all.”
When Frazier hit a towering home run in the fourth inning to score Bruce, Frazier circled the bases and, upon entering the Reds’ dugout, bellowed, “C’mon, Teddy, give it to me!” And player and batboy exchanged a big hug.
Reds pitcher Mike Leake came down to the clubhouse to get something during the game and ran into Stowe.
“I’ve only got a second,” Leake told Stowe. “I gotta get back to Teddy.”
With two outs to go in the top of the ninth and the Reds leading 7-3, Teddy began to applaud at the prospect of certain victory. Joey Votto, in uniform but out of action with a knee injury, sat down next to Teddy.
“We wait until we get three outs before we count this one as a win,” said Votto, gently.
Teddy took the hint and waited for the final out.
And what did Votto tell you then, Teddy?
“He said, ‘I love you, Ted. Thank you for everything.’ ”
POWERADE AND BUBBLEGUM
Years from now, Reds players will remember the Cuban Missile emerging as their closer, rookies Todd Frazier and Zack Cozart having their coming-out parties and the Reds’ five starting pitchers somehow miraculously not missing a turn. The player will also remember a 22-3 stretch, much of it while Votto was out.
But they’ll remember something else, too. They’ll remember the night they met Teddy Kremer.
“He’s always smiling, always joking, always having fun,” Heisey says. “Everybody likes being around somebody like that. He’s cool. I wish he’d come back more.”
The Reds, who were down 3-1 going into the fourth inning, went ahead 6-3 on home runs by Ryan Ludwick and Frazier, and back-to-back extra-base hits by Cozart and Stubbs. Jay Bruce added an insurance homer in the fifth. Jose Arredondo, Jonathan Broxton and Aroldis Chapman closed out the quality start by Bronson Arroyo.
Teddy knuckle-rapped with manager Baker, who pulled the lineup card from the dugout wall – the card by which Baker manages the comings and goings of both teams’ players – and signed it, “To our good luck charm, Teddy Kremer. – Dusty Baker,” and handed it to Teddy.
Teddy was exhausted. All those steps up and out of the dugout to retrieve bats and balls had taken their toll.
And three weeks later, the experience was clear.
“The players,” he answered, when asked what was his favorite memory.
Anything surprise you?
“The fans cheering me on.”
Favorite thing in the dugout besides the players?
“The Powerade and the bubblegum.”
When Ted’s parents got home from the ballpark that night, they noticed their necks were quite sore. All from trying to keep up with Teddy’s moves.
“Nerve-wracking,” recalls Cheryl. “We didn’t know he was going to be doing any of that. It was amazing what the Reds let him do.”
And, yet, Teddy had been relaxed as could be – well, at least after the national anthem. After the anthem, it was like being back on the Colerain sidelines with Coach Kerry Coombs.
From the end of that night, Teddy remembers one final exchange.
“Mr. Stowe, I want to thank you very much for having me down here. I had a great time.”
“I guess you did, Teddy, I guess you did,” responded Rick Stowe.
“But not as great a time as we had.”