Photo: Courtesy of the Batista Family
By Dawn M Chiossi
Baseball is often called America’s National Pastime. Generally, boys from all over enjoy this warm weather amusement. It’s a time for fun, sports, teamwork, friends, and so much more.
For eight-year-old Ryan Batista, the game of baseball now holds a special place in his heart for a totally different reason.
At a recent game, he received the best and happiest surprise of his life, his father, Marine Staff Sergeant Steve Batista, came home from his military deployment in Afghanistan. He is now home for good.
When Ryan got up in the morning to go to his Little League game at Bloomingdale’s Anderson Field that day, he had no idea of the surprise that awaited him.
His game started out like any other, until he stepped up to the plate. Although Ryan didn’t take any notice of the PA System’s announcement that there would be a change regarding the opposing pitcher, he was stunned when he saw the familiar face of his father throwing him a pitch.
The family hadn’t seen Steve Batista for approximately 10 months.
That was the time of his last deployment from the Marine Corps. Batista, who joined the Marine Corps in 2004, has endured several years of active duty in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Throughout that time, he and his family have only seen each a handful of times during his approximately four deployments. Batista explains that each deployment lasts about seven months, something that is understandably emotional for all of them.
For Ryan, when the shock wore off, pure pleasure set in. It was then that the boy scurried to his dad’s arms. When his wife Jillian and his two-year-old daughter Eden joined father and son on the field, it soon became a family hug, making all four of them a unit.
It was a moment that Steve Batista called the best moment of his life. “When he saw me, he ran into my arms. I picked him up and hugged him. We both cried pretty hard. I was away for a long time,” Batista says emotionally. “The last time I talked to Ryan was on Facetime in July of 2018. He’s gotten so big since then. He’s a young man now.”
He shares that surprising Ryan during his baseball game was completely his wife’s idea. “She planned the whole thing,” he prides. “She spoke to the coaches and officials and arranged for me to surprise him on the field. Everyone was so supportive and completely on board.”
Batista explains that after his Welcome Home Ceremony he, along with the police piloting the fastest route to Bloomingdale, made it to Anderson Field in plenty of time. “We had our fingers crossed the whole time that we could pull this off,” he remarks.
Pull off the plan, they did. “Ryan had no idea,” his father discloses. “We totally kept the secret. “My wife (along with Eden) was so excited.”
For those in the stands, just watching was a heartwarming moment for all. Amid cheers and applause and thanks of gratitude, they witnessed much more than a typical baseball game; it was a reunion. “Everyone was pulling out their cellphones to take pictures and crying along with us. Everybody was in tears. There wasn’t a dry eye around,” Batista tells.
When talking to Batista, it is easy to see the love and utter pride he has for his family. Now that he is going to be home, he intends to make the most of being with them.
He explains that baseball is something that his whole family enjoys, a pastime that was passed down from his own dad. “It’s something that we wanted to share with Ryan. He tends to be shy,” he says of his son. “But through sports and little league, Ryan has a lot of good friends. He really enjoys it.”
Of his wife, Jillian, he can’t say enough. “She had to be both parents to our kids, while I was away. I couldn’t have done any of this without her.”
After Ryan’s Little League game ended that day, Batista said that they started on their quality family time right away. They enjoyed a family barbecue, with the whole extended family attending. “Nothing over the top, just a nice simple barbecue,” he shares.
Batista is full of plans regarding his family and his future at home. He is still with the Marine Reserves and has been working as a police officer in the Lyndhurst Police Department since 2015.
So what’s next for this family? Batista shares that he is looking forward to their upcoming family vacation. “Just relaxing, catching up, and being together,” he says. “That’s what it’s all about.”