Brad Kysar was a superstitious man when it came to watching his son pitch. Whenever Ryan Kysar was on the mound, Brad opted to walk around, almost to distract himself, instead of sitting in one place with his eyes trained on him.
The superstitious walks continued until Ryan’s freshman year at Valencia. Not because he didn’t want to, but because amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, didn’t allow him to.
“He couldn’t (walk),” Ryan said, “but he would always stray away from everybody, so he would try at least.”
The disease progressed and eventually confined Brad to a wheelchair, which was always on the far left of the stadium seats behind home plate, right next to the snack stand. But regardless of his limitations, Brad made an appearance at every Valencia home game.
“Every time I would see his dad, it didn’t matter what state he was in, his dad was always smiling,” said Cade Erickson, a former Vikings teammate of Ryan’s. “He’d come over and give me a high-five. He was always just, like, a happy guy.”
Brad did make it to one away game: Valencia’s first-round upset of No. 1 Harvard-Westlake in the 2018 CIF-Southern Section Division 1 playoffs, a win that brought tears to his eyes.
In that game, Ryan recorded five strikeouts and allowed five hits and four runs in 3 ⅔ innings. But according to Jim Wagner, owner and director of player development at ThrowZone Academy, it was his mental toughness that got him through the game — and got Valencia the win.
“The trials and tribulations of what was going on at home got him to think, ‘How can I get worried? How can I stress about the No. 1 team when I’ve got this going on at home?’ and I think that boded well for him,” Wagner said.
“He really wants to do well. He really, really wants to do well and make his family proud.”
Away from baseball, life became difficult for the Kysar family. ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, causes nerve cells in the spinal cord and brain to degenerate. The disease is sporadic and affects an estimated 16,000 Americans, according to alsa.com.
Ryan learned of his dad’s diagnosis shortly after Christmas two years ago, although he suspects his family knew before the holiday season. He had previously noticed his father was a little overweight and would become fatigued when exercising, but didn’t think anything of it.
“I was crying for probably like four hours,” Ryan said of when he learned of the diagnosis. “I couldn’t talk.”
As Brian’s muscles began to atrophy, Ryan took on a bigger role at home. His mom, Cinda, cooked and took care of Brad whenever his caretaker wasn’t around in addition to making sure that Ryan and his two sisters had their homework done.
Ryan helped however he could, even if it was a task as simple as taking out the trash. Wagner said he saw him become a communicator for Brad, finishing his sentences when his dad wasn’t physically able to.
He used baseball as an escape, particularly pitching, letting his mind focus on each throw in games and practices.
“When I would play outfield and other positions, I would have way too much time to think on my hands and that just got in my head,” Ryan said, “but pitching, I would always have to focus on what I was doing every single pitch, so that really helped me take my mind off of everything.”
His dedication to his craft earned him an offer to the University of Arizona his sophomore year, an accomplishment that had Brad ecstatic. He quickly developed a habit of researching any information he could find on the Wildcats.
Ryan’s teammates were supportive as well, offering a friendly smile when necessary but also allowing him to have space. He was with his team in the Valencia weight room when he heard his dad had died in mid-January at the age of 48.
In the months after, when grief made school and even baseball impossible, the Vikings had him on their minds.
“Every game was like, it was for Ryan,” Erickson said. “It was all about him and even though he wasn’t there it was always about Ryan and whenever we got the time to see Ryan, we always made the effort to go and say hi. Just make him feel like he is at home and he has people there for him.”
Now, although time has passed since his dad’s death, Ryan still experiences grief every once in a while and continues to rely on baseball as a way to cope. He’s seen as a leader at Valencia and although Brad won’t be superstitiously straying from the crowd at University of Arizona baseball games, Ryan will still play as if he were there.
“I want to be the best pitcher for him because he would always drive me to pitching (practice) twice a week or three times a week and encourage me to do more things and get more athletic,” Ryan said. “I just want to prove to him that I can do it at Arizona.”