Gimino: Gritty Cat draws from quadriplegic dadby Anthony Gimino on May. 31, 2008, under Sports
OKLAHOMA CITY – He hasn’t played catch with her, showed her how to swing a bat, trained with her in the early morning.
Scott Balko couldn’t do those things.
He did what he could with Callista, the youngest of his five children.
Spent time with her. Supported her. Inspired her with famous quotations. She always seemed to like that.
“He’s actually the reason I’ve gotten this far,” said Callista Balko, a senior catcher for the Arizona softball team.
Scott has gone far this season, too, traveling to his first Women’s College World Series, not a routine trip for a quadriplegic.
“I begged that he could come,” said Callista, a Canyon del Oro High graduate. “He motivates me in a way that no one else can. I’m really completely relieved he was able to come in my senior year.”
Callista has been an indomitable force as a four-year starting catcher for the Wildcats. She caught every pitch in the 2006 and 2007 seasons. She nearly did the same this season.
She chuckles, knowing it sounds a bit ridiculous to complain about feeling “old” when she’s 22.
But anybody who has put on a catcher’s so-called tools of ignorance that many times does begin to feel the cumulative aches and pains while gaining a working knowledge of anti-inflammatory medication and growing prideful of bruises and dislocated fingers.
“I’m a bit slower,” she said, “but I’ve still got it in me.”
And when she begins to feel that she doesn’t have anything left, she thinks of dad.
“He’s not able to physically help me, but mentally he has been there for me better than any other father could,” Callista said.
“His inability to help me physically has pushed me further. Every time I’m running or I start complaining about my body, I just start thinking about my dad and how he would give anything to be in the situation that I’m in.”
Scott, 51, was in the Navy more than 30 years ago, returning from sea for five days off. He and some buddies went camping in Sequoia National Park in California.
“I was just shy of 21. We were young and dumb, and we were hiking and I got too close to some wet rocks on a waterfall and went off the edge,” he said.
“About halfway down, I was thinking I was going to mess my legs up. When I woke up, I found out that I had flipped and hit my neck and had a spinal cord injury. That was Oct. 17, 1976. Sunday. At 3:30 p.m.”
The things he said he is most proud of about Callista – “her tenacity, her doggedness, how she fights and battles no matter what” – are the things she admires about her father. Funny how that works out.
“A father and daughter, at least in good relationships, is a special bond,” Scott said.
“We related well. We grew very close. I wasn’t able to work outside the house, so we got to spend more time at home. In spite of my disability, I wouldn’t trade that time for anything.
“It’s a blessing. Something positive can come from anything.”
Callista has always been a thinker – another trait picked up from dad? – which has been her blessing and her curse as a softball player. It’s a great trait for a catcher who has to analyze the permutations and possibilities of every play, not so great as a hitter who needs to have a clear mind.
“I’m just so hard on myself,” said Balko, who is hitting .261 with 15 home runs, tied for second on the team. “I put a lot of pressure on myself and expect a lot out of myself, and that just makes it that much worse.”
Which is a good time to talk to dad.
“He’s kind of a quiet man, and he’s not someone who has pushed me,” Callista said. “But he knows I am my own worst enemy and he knows exactly how to be there for me.”
Now, he’s here at the World Series. He called getting in and out of an airplane seat a “royal hassle,” but otherwise said he has no complaints.
“This is a blast,” Scott said.
For Callista, too. For the first time at ASA Hall of Fame Stadium, she can look into the stands and see her father there in his wheelchair.
“It’s a real good feeling,” she said. “It’s a big deal that he’s out here.”
Game 7: Florida (67-4) vs. Virginia Tech (49-18), 9 a.m.
Game 8: Alabama (56-7) vs. Arizona (41-18), 11 a.m.
Game 9: UCLA (51-8) vs. Game 7 winner, 4 p.m.
Game 10: Louisiana-Lafayette (52-14) vs. Game 8 winner, 6 p.m.
> Complete schedule, 9C
> Ex-MLB player John Kruk happy to be calling series, 2C
> UA needs four wins over two days to get back to the championship series, 4C