Hadley Straka stood behind home plate. She looked out onto the baseball field, catching a glimpse of something familiar on the mound.
Flashing a big smile, John Straka composed himself, finishing off the batter two pitches later with a strikeout.
"That's the best thing in the world. Having them there. Hadley, 2 1/2, she gets it. She understands it. She's excited to go to a baseball game, whether I'm playing or not. She's been around a ball park enough. My younger daughter, Teigan, she hasn't necessarily experienced it as much. She loves the atmosphere, people cheering. But it's everything to have them, my wife (Marissa), here," Straka said.
Hadley, 2, was there in Sioux Falls Aug. 28, 2018, to watch daddy pitch. Six innings in the books, no runs allowed, a season-high 10 strikeouts recorded, John Straka knew his night was over.
What he didn't know was his professional baseball career would be over that night, too.
One hundred and sixteen games over six seasons, three independent teams including the St. Paul Saints, as high as Double-A ball with the Toronto Blue Jays.
"I come out of that game, I knew I was done for the day, my arm was just hanging there, but I had one more start to go. I'm walking off the field and my daughter for the first time ran down and met me at the steps of the dugout. She reached out, called 'Daddy, daddy, daddy.' She gave me a kiss. At the time I'm thinking wouldn't this be cool to have it end like this?" Straka said.
Three days later, unable to throw the ball 60 feet, sure enough it was how things ended.
Credit Garrett Fischer for helping land Straka with the Chanhassen Red Birds this season. Both work at Federated Insurance along with fellow Red Bird newcomer Michael Jurgella.
Straka's impact with the defending Class B champions has been felt over the first two weekends of state.
A two-hit complete-game shutout in a 1-0 win over Champlin on Aug. 16, Straka backed it up with a seven-strikeout three hitter over nine complete innings in a 2-0 win over Northfield Aug. 23 in Dassel.
Eighteen innings pitched, five total hits and nine total base runners allowed, Straka, with 11 strikeouts, is pitching like a MVP this post-season.
"Arm feels good, I feel very fortunate for that. The last handful of years the elbow never felt good and now I finally feel like I can go out and throw and compete. Leave it all on the hill. That's all you can ask for. It's a pleasure to play the game at the age of 29. Not everyone can do that. I don't take that for granted," Straka said.
It was Fischer that suggested to the Chanhassen dugout to not wait until the ninth inning to score a run. Straka's response, of course, "Yeah, let's do that."
A Jurgella walk, advancing to second base on a ground out, Shawn Riesgraf came up clutch, a two-out single to left. Jurgella, running through a stop sign, scored easily for the 1-0 lead.
The score remained that way, Straka setting down 10 of 11 straight batters before a lead-off single in the seventh inning. A pair of strikeouts and a ground ball out and the Red Birds remaining in the lead.
Straka stranded the tying run at second base in the eighth inning, while Chanhassen added an insurance run on a Fischer double and long fly-outs from Jurgella and Nick Smith.
A double play on a pop out to second base, the throw to first in time, sent Chanhassen to the winners' bracket semifinals on Friday, Aug. 30 at 7:30 p.m. back in Dassel.
To Straka, it's much more than a shutout. It's the back and forth with Jurgella at third base. It's the game plan with catcher Matt Smith to do a bunch of shake-offs only to throw fastballs all night to an opposing batter. It's sitting back on the bench in the dugout, a part of the guys, saying whatever comes to mind.
The game is fun for the Chaska High School graduate.
"Mike and I have a little inside joke where's he's going to talk some trash, I'm going to talk some back. It's just fun out there. That's ultimately the goal out there. That's what the game of baseball is. I'm going to enjoy every minute of it. I can't say enough things about this time. The guys (Manager) Mike Ralston put together. They're not only good baseball players, they're good guys as well," Straka said.
Three Class B games are scheduled for 11 a.m., 1:30 and 4:30 p.m. on Saturday in Dassel. Losers will play again at 4:30 p.m. and 7 p.m. on Sunday in elimination rounds.