Baseball Boy

Rylan Murray, 4, holds a blue baseball inscribed with his name and birth information. The baseball, which the family lost in the deadly 2011 tornado in Joplin, Missouri, was recently returned.

When Gabe McClintock arrived to help victims of the 2011 Joplin, Missouri tornado, something lying in the debris — a blue baseball — caught his attention.

"It's like it was just glowing at me," McClintock said Monday as he recalled the moment. 

He spotted the baseball, still in perfect condition, soon after he stepped out of his vehicle. Written on the ball was information about a boy named Rylan Murray, including his recent birth date, length, weight and that he was born at St. John's Regional Medical Center, which sustained major damage from the 2011 storm that killed 116 people, and was demolished less than a year later.

McClintock, who lived in Carl Junction, Missouri, just north of Joplin, said he planned to seek out Rylan's family, he said, but cellphone reception was virtually nonexistent and people were busy trying to assess the situation. 

So he decided to let some time pass. He wrapped up the baseball and tucked it away at his home, where it remained out of sight and out of mind.

But McClintock recently rediscovered the baseball while going through some boxes at his new house. He kept it in his truck for a couple weeks and planned to begin his search for the owner. 

Then he received some big news of his own: He and his girlfriend were expecting a baby boy.

The news sparked his determination to find the owners of the baseball. That same day he called Mercy Hospital Joplin, the facility that replaced St. John's,  to see if anyone could find the Murrays. With some help from a hospital employee, McClintock was able to make the connection. 

“At first, I was a little nervous that maybe the little boy was lost in the tornado,” McClintock said. 

Then he learned Rylan had recently celebrated his fourth birthday. His parents, Travis and Megan, who both worked at St. John's at the time of the tornado, were also unharmed.

McClintock arranged to meet Rylan and Travis in person last week. Rylan was shy at first, he said. But when McClintock started to walk away, he heard the boy say, "Thank you."

"It made me feel good," McClintock said. "It felt like the right thing to do."

Now the baseball is back at the Murray home.

“There were many emotions the day Gabe called,” Rylan's mother, Megan, said in a news release from Mercy. “We’d been through a lot since the tornado, so this was a good turn of events.” 

The Murrays had only lived at their Joplin home a few weeks before the tornado struck. 

“We were actually in the middle of renovation," she said. "After dinner, we ran to Wal-Mart to get groceries but ended up stuck in the store while the storm passed. We lost our house, but we were grateful just to be alive and have each other.”

Very little was left behind. Megan found her daughter’s baby book, but she hadn't yet made one for Rylan.

“The baseball was a gift from a family member, and I’d written his baby stats on it when we got home from Mercy," she said. "It had a prominent place in his room. After the storm, we assumed it was gone forever. Today, the ball is on my dresser, and it’s not going anywhere."

Katie Lamb writes for the Joplin Globe.

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