SEATTLE -- Friday night was already going to be a memorable evening for 13-year-old Kyle Smerer. Not only was he attending Opening Day to see his favorite team, the Seattle Mariners, but Smerer was also participating in Steal-A-Base, a contest in which a kid runs from the outfield wall and swipes second base.
But memorable doesn't even come close to capturing the emotions of Friday night for the Smerer family. After the fifth inning, Kyle sprinted to the infield and grabbed second base. As he turned to run back to right field, he was stopped dead in his tracks.
That's because someone who appeared to be an umpire ran from the middle of the infield and put a hand on his shoulder.
"Somebody grabbed me and I was like, 'What are you doing? I'm trying to run back in a little amount of time,'" Kyle said.
He was in so much shock, that it took him a few seconds to realize it wasn't an umpire. Instead, it was his father, First Sgt. Steve Smerer, who Kyle thought to still be deployed in Afghanistan.
"I was really shocked to see him," a beaming Kyle said afterward. "I didn't know he was going to be here. I'll probably never forget this."
It was a surreal moment for Kyle, but not one that wasn't shared by the entire family. Steve's wife Trina, their other two kids, Kayla (16) and Colton (1), and Steve's parents Sue and Ron were waiting at the outfield gate to embrace their loved one. The kids were the only ones who were not in on the secret, but both Kyle and Kayla agreed it was worth not knowing.
It's the first time since early December that the 17-year Army veteran has been home from Afghanistan.
"The anticipation has been a few days since I've been back and not been able to see them," Steve said. "Just coming back and seeing my family again, and them seeing me after such a long time in such a crazy place in such a crazy world [is great]. Just being able to see them again has been an amazing thing."
The whole scheme came about when Steve's friend told him about a similar plan his buddy had thought of and executed. While Steve didn't think it was much of a possibility, he gave it a shot. He immediately got an email back from the Mariners, and not only were they interested, but they wanted to surprise Kyle on Opening Day. Steve said the Army was very understanding during the process and worked to make it happen.
All Kyle knew was that he was entered into a contest to participate in Steal-A-Base. So much time had passed that he forgot about it until a letter came in the mail in March saying that he had won the contest.
Steve will be home another 11-12 days before heading back to Afghanistan. He's scheduled to come home in June. When he's at home, Steve and Kyle enjoy playing baseball together, as well as rooting for their favorite team, the Mariners.