Nothing quite reflects Todd and Shea Ulmer’s special father-son bond like their shared love for “America’s favorite pastime” — baseball. At 12 years old, Shea plays a variety of positions for Montoursville Little League’s Metzger’s Apartments team, where Todd serves as one of four coaches. On July 23, Todd — a former Little Leaguer himself — got to watch his son do something he only could have dreamed of — play catch with the president of the United States on the White House South Lawn.
“It’s something I never thought I’d be able to do. . . It was great,” Shea said, grinning.
The opportunity, which came a day before the Montoursville Little Leaguers were invited to celebrate Major League Baseball’s opening day at the White House, could not have been more unexpected. In fact, when Todd received a text with the news from head coach Bruce Jones, he assumed he was joking.
“You just laugh and text back, ‘Sure,’” Todd said.
But after some quick convincing and a hasty round of Secret Service background checks, 13 Montoursville Little Leaguers were on the road to Washington, D.C., early the next morning.
Catch on the lawn
Going to the White House in the age of COVID-19 does not come without its challenges. When the players and their chaperones arrived, they were immediately whisked away to be tested for the virus. After an hour of anxious waiting with the friendly staff, the results were in. No one tested positive, which meant that everyone could play catch as planned.
Soon into the highly anticipated game, President Donald Trump and Hall of Fame pitcher Mariano Rivera made their way onto the lawn. The men tossed a ball back and forth as the boys excitedly looked on, throwing their own rounds in front of the national landmark.
“Seeing the White House next to you when you’re playing catch is awesome,” Shea said. “It’s something you never think you’d be able to do. . . My whole team was there and we were all just having fun.”
Todd and the other coaches got to talk with the renowned pitcher about local Hall of Famer Mike Mussina, who had played alongside Rivera and now is a coach for the Montoursville Little Leaguers. He watched with fatherly pride as Rivera taught the team how to throw fastballs, curveballs and sliders. One of the highlights of his day was hearing Trump tell the kids, “That’s a million-dollar lesson right there.”
“You get a tear in your eye when you see your son playing catch with your brother’s kid on the White House lawn,” Todd said, choking up a bit. “I mean, when they say the White House lawn, it is right next to the White House, which is so cool.”
While the local 2020 Little League season undoubtedly looks different due to the pandemic — 14 games instead of the usual 20, no hand contact between players and no All-Stars season — Shea and Todd consider the surprise invitation to the White House to be a silver lining.
Todd reminds his son every day that this kind of opportunity only comes around once in a lifetime.
“He doesn’t realize what he did yet,” Todd said. “In 10, 20 years from now when he tells his kids, he’s gonna realize how special it really was.”