Travis Hissong, a 2010 Clear Fork graduate, current minor league baseball player and Bellville native is making waves some 500 miles away from his hometown, touching a New York family both on and off the diamond.
Hissong’s club, the Staten Island Yankees, are enjoying their first playoff appearance in four seasons thanks to a victory on Sept. 7 in which Hissong made an appearance out of the bullpen to help secure the club’s late-game lead. He is 1-1 in 14 games this season with a 3.09 ERA.
However, Hissong’s work off the field has impacted a pair of New Yorkers more than his radar topping fastballs ever could.
Staten Island resident and retired New York City Police Officer Owen Reiter has been attending baseball games for years. As a Bronx native, Reiter has had the fortune of seeing some of the game’s greats like Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris and Whitey Ford.
During the Staten Island season, Reiter and his grandson Justin Weber were introduced to a new Yankee, Travis Hissong. The pair began attending minor league games together upon Weber’s graduation from elementary school.
“The father of a classmate took several of the boys to see the Staten Island Yankees,” said Reiter. “When my grandson returned from the game he couldn’t wait to tell me about his first trip to see the Staten Island Yankees. When he asked if he could go again, I remembered how excited I was when my grandfather took me to Yankee Stadium. I had never been to a minor-league game so the next day I ordered tickets.”
When the duo arrived at the stadium, Reiter explained to his grandson that as a boy, he made it a pre-game ritual to try to get autographs from members of the Yankee Nine while they warmed-up in preparation for the night’s contest. As the pair stood in the midst of the stadium, Reiter noticed a Yankee standing near the home team’s bullpen.
“I told my grandson let’s go over there and see if we can meet him,” he said. “We began talking to Travis and I asked him where he was from. When he said Ohio, I remembered that when my grandfather came to America around 1900, he lived in Marietta before settling in the Bronx. Travis asked my grandson about school and which sports he liked. When Justin told him he really likes basketball the most and was attending summer basketball camp, I thought Travis would be disappointed that he didn’t say baseball.”
Despite Reiter’s expectations, Hissong encouraged Weber to pursue sports that he was interested in, stating that he used to play basketball and football too.
“After talking about fifteen minutes, I asked if Justin could get his autograph,” Reiter said. “He said sure, and went and got a baseball and autographed it for him. I was so impressed that he took the time to encourage a child and rather than autograph a piece of paper, he went out of his way to give him a ball. After I tried so hard to get a ball during my youth, Travis made it happen for my grandson at our very first game.”
Coming off the excitement from the previous trip to Staten Island’s stadium, Reiter and his grandson returned to the ballfield later that week.
“We saw Travis signing autographs,” he said. “We stopped to say hello, and he remembered Justin and asked, ‘How are you doing in basketball camp?”’ I couldn’t believe that with all the people that go to the stadium he would remember my grandson, let alone remember that he was in basketball camp.”
Reiter was so impressed by the interaction, he sent a letter to the Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred explaining that Hissong was a great role model for the country’s youth and that baseball could use more players like him.
“I know first-hand how interactions with kids can make a positive impression on them for life,” said Reiter, a retired NYPD officer. “After those two meetings, we were hooked and started attending more and more games. We would get seats next to the Yankee dugout and Travis would always stop and say hello.”
Weber began collecting other autographs and baseball cards as a result of his new found interest in the game. He even began picking up extra chores around the house to earn money for a Yankee jersey.
“I thought that was a great idea,” said Reiter of the jersey. “When he got it we had Hissong and Travis’ number 27 put on the back to surprise him. The first time that Justin wore it Travis took him onto the field for a photo of them together.”
The gestures made by Hissong left a profound impact on Reiter and his grandson, seeming to reflect notions of a simpler time.
“With all the shootings and violence these days, it seems that America is changing for the worse,” he said. “It certainly is not the same as when I grew up. I had never heard of Bellville in my life, but you folks must be doing something right. You sent us somebody that kids can look up to and learn from. I call that getting back to basics. I call that Made in America. And for that, this New Yorker says thank you to the Hissong family and to Bellville, Ohio.”
Reach Jones on Twitter @Bellville_Jones or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org