Brianna and Bryce Byars, siblings from Belcamp, were excited enough to be throwing out the first pitch at one of the Cal Ripken World Series contests on Saturday night, but they had no idea what was in store for them.
Unbeknownst to the pair, their father, Ed, an Air National Guard member, who had been in Afghanistan for the previous year, was there to catch that pitch.
Marion Byars, mother of Brianna, 13, and Bryce, 6, explained that the idea to disguise her husband as a catcher and have him surprise his two children, who did not know their father was back in the United States, was hatched by the people at Ripken Baseball.
"We registered to be a host family this year, and I put down on the forms that Ed was overseas," she explained. "Lauren Morris [of Ripken Baseball], after we figured out that Ed was coming back that same week, called and said, 'I've got a crazy idea. Let's have a surprise reunion on the field for them.'"
"The Ripken people picked me up from Dulles Airport, drove me to the stadium and got me in a uniform," Ed Byars said Tuesday. "I had a catcher's mask and sunglasses on, the whole deal. They weren't going to be able to tell it was me."
Brianna and Bryce were told on Friday that they'd been chosen from among the host families to toss the first pitch of the 8 p.m. game between the Charles County and Mountain Home, Ark., teams at Cal Sr.'s Yard.
"They were just ecstatic about that," Marion Byars said. "They were talking about it the whole day. We got to the stadium and Ed was up in the press box, waiting. I went up and saw him before the first pitch."
Ed Byars, who took a year off of his Air National Guard duties to work with AECOM fixing military aircraft in Afghanistan last year, snuck down to the field in one of the Charles County squad's uniforms, then took his place behind home plate to catch the ceremonial first pitch tossed out by his son. After Bryce thew the ball, his father took off the catcher's mask and went to embrace his two children.
"Bryce looked at him and shook his head, like he didn't know what was going on," Marion Byars said. "Then Brianna yelled and started crying. It all came together so well. The Ripken people worked it out perfectly."
"It was very, very emotional," Ed Byars said. "We surprised them before, the last time I came back from overseas, and that was great, but this was even better."
The Byars were at the Ripken Baseball complex in Aberdeen on Tuesday afternoon, supporting the team they are hosting - the Canadian national squad.
"We'll definitely do this again," Marion Byars said about hosting players. "My kids have gotten along with players so well this week. It's like they have a couple of brothers now. They're really loving it."