During some of the major moments in Bob and Ryan Sebra's lives have been connected to the game they both love.
BY MATT MENCARINI | SPORTS EDITOR
Bob Sebra was on the mound, pitching for the Louisville Redbirds, a St. Louis Cardinals minor league team, when he was pulled from the game. His wife was in labor.
He rushed off the mound and into his car. He was listening to the radio, to the game he left with a lead, while he drove to Ormond Beach. His team went on to win, he said, securing a win for him the night his son, Ryan Sebra, was born.
Father and son, from the very beginning, have been linked by baseball.
Bob played six seasons in the major leagues after playing college baseball for the University of Nebraska. He appeared in 94 games during those seasons, playing for the Texas Rangers, Montreal Expos, Philadelphia Phillies, Cincinnati Reds and Milwaukee Brewers, ending his career with a 15-29 record and a 4.71 ERA.
Ryan, a Seabreeze alum, just finished his second season at Florida State College at Jacksonville, a two-year junior college, and said he worked out for several Division I programs this week.
Ryan had a .349 batting average his freshman year, and hit .339 his sophomore year while ending his junior college career with 46 RBI, 67 runs and 19 stolen bases.
“I’ve never really been away from a (baseball) field, to be honest,” Ryan said. “I didn’t really start playing until I was in tee ball, but even before that I was just kind of with (my dad).”
Bob taught baseball lessons, and Ryan, the father said, was a constant presence. They’d play catch afterward, and Ryan joined a local tee ball league as soon as he could. The glove he used, far too big for his hand at the time, was his father’s.
“I had a huge glove that I had all the way through high school,” Ryan said. “It ended up just getting smaller and smaller, but it was big (early on).”
During his first junior college season, Ryan approached his coaches about focusing on pitching, instead of try to pitch and play the field. He was struggling at the plate, but his coaches gave him one more start at shortstop.
“I had the worst game of my life,” Ryan said. “I made three errors, went 0-for-3 at the plate. ... I went up to the locker room and I was just bummed out. I looked at my phone and I had like 30 missed calls, a couple text messages.”
He wasn’t too surprised by the number of failed attempts his family had made to get in touch with him. He knew his father had had some health issues, but he didn’t think too much of it at the time.
“As I was walking out (of the locker room), my sister called me crying,” Ryan said. “She said, ‘You need to hurry up. ... They’ve already revived him twice.’”
So Ryan, much like his father had done some 19 years earlier, drove south, temporarily leaving his baseball team behind, to a hospital near Ormond Beach.
Bob’s liver was failing. He needed a transplant. He would get one after spending several weeks in a coma.
It was a combination of Hepatitis C, which he said he thinks he got from sharing shaving razors with teammates, and anti-inflammatory medication, that Bob credits with destroying his liver. Although Bob has never been an alcoholic, a doctor told him that even at age 26, Bob's liver looked it belonged to one.
Finally, after his father had received a liver transplant and was on the mend, Ryan returned to his teammates in Jacksonville. He started his first game back.
“I don’t know if they felt, out of sorrow or whatever, but I was probably the fifth or sixth option at third base, and they put me in at third base,” Ryan said. “I had a good game. Played the game the next day, had a good game. Then continued from there.”
Bob credits the junior college program and coaches for helping to develop Ryan as a player and as a person. Despite having the bloodlines, Ryan’s baseball development was slow. He entered Seabreeze weighing about 120 pounds, he said, and finished at about 165.
But from Ryan’s freshman year, his father saw some of the raw skills necessary to play at the next level.
“I saw something,” Bob said. “But it was just a matter of, is he going to get stronger? Is he going to get bigger? Is the arm strength going to be there? Is the power going to be there?
“And it did. It came.”
Ryan has scholarship offers from several lower-level universities, he said, some of which have given him deadlines that have already past. But he’s waiting, and taking the risk that if all else fails those schools will still offer him the same. He’s holding out hope for a Division I offer.
Ryan was named to Mid-Florida All-Conference teams in both junior college seasons, and even named to the conference's all-academic team.
“I can’t tell you how proud I am of him,” Bob said. “Baseball aside, to do that well in school, and go back with all the stuff going on with me, you can tell just how strong of a kid he is.”