Wearing a uniform, and his mask down, one man at the edge of Raley Field could be just any catcher ready to crouch into the box at the start of a game.
The children walking to the pitcher’s mound could be any kids plucked from the River Cats crowd to throw out the ceremonial first pitch.
But instead of any player and any children, they were father and son and daughter about to reunite Tuesday night after being separated by dad’s year-long deployment to Afghanistan.
While 13-year-old Summer Hereth seemed to recognize her dad right after he caught her brother’s low pitch and raised his mask, it took a minute for 10-year-old Devin to realize Sergeant First Class Jim Hereth was there in the flesh.
“My sister hit me, ‘Devin it’s him’ and I was like ‘oh what!’ I felt like I was running. I didn’t know if I was dreaming,” said Devin.
Their reunion was something dad had dreamed of for a long time, but was able to pull together with just one phone call to the River Cats last week.
His own father served in Vietnam, but it wasn’t until he left two kids behind for a war zone himself, that the weight of such a sacrifice hit Hereth.
“Growing up as a kid I would think of that, but I had no idea,” he said.
The thought of what his Army National Guard Shinook unit had faced weighed heavy on his mind in the midst of the reunion.
“It’s haphazard. Anyone can see the end at anytime. You lose good soldiers, good family members and good dads, everything,” said the Mira Loma and Sacramento State grad.
“A lot of my friends don’t have their other parent and it kind of gave me a perspective, so I’m just a lot more grateful now,” said Summer.
Summer, Devin and their dad are grateful and giddy with the happiness brought on by the unbelievable surprise they enjoyed as the River Cats took on the Colorado Springs Sky Sox.
“I saw their apprehension when they were even walking out to the mound, little skeptical about going out behind them,” said Hereth, a single dad from Citrus Heights.
He also confessed his heart felt like it might beat out of his chest right before the ruse was revealed.
Now it’s time to do everything they’ve all dreamt about for a year.
“Spend all day with my children, (I’m) thinking Sunsplash. I don’t know,” he laughed.