Ryan Simpson remembers dad in preparation to play anthem at Kauffman

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TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) -- One look around Ryan Simpson's office at Seaman Middle School makes it clear: baseball matters.

Three well-maintained George Brett baseball cards are in a protective case on the windowsill, there's a baseball on shelf signed by the Royals Hall of Famer, and sitting in the middle of his desk is a Royals hat that has certainly seen better days.

"I played out at Ken Berry up through middle school," Simpson, a Topeka-native said. "As soon as I found out my dad was a Major League ballplayer, I was all in."

Simpson's dad, Steve Simpson, pitched 11 Major League innings for the San Diego Padres in 1972.

"He pitched against Johnny Bench, he faced off against Tom Seaver," Ryan said.

While Steve's Major League career wasn't stellar (0-2, eight walks, nine strikeouts, six earned runs, and two saves), his college career was Hall of Fame worthy.

"My dad killed it when he was at Washburn," Ryan said. "He had records that stood for a long time."

Steve, part of the Shawnee County Baseball Hall of Fame 2017 class, struck out 90 batters in 64.1 innings in 1970. He is one of three Ichabods to record 90 strikeouts in a season.

Ryan was certainly influenced by his father's baseball career, but he found his calling as he entered middle school.

"I started playing the trumpet," Ryan, the Seaman Middle School band director, said. "I realized pretty quick[ly] that I had a natural affinity for it and it became a career."

Ryan says his dad only asked for one thing from his son as a musician.

"The very first thing - maybe even the night I got my trumpet - my dad said, 'you've got to learn to play the national anthem.' I said why, and he said that's what they play at the ballpark."

Ryan remembers the first time he played the anthem for Steve, and he distinctly remembers his dad getting choked up.

"He didn't show a whole lot of emotion," Ryan explained. "It was pretty cool. I realized, hey, I've touched a nerve here."

In November of 1989, the Simpson family was living in Omaha, Neb. Ryan was at a local rec center when he received a phone call from a neighbor.

"That was the night our lives changed," Ryan said.

Steve Simpson died from a heart attack at age 41.

Ryan was 15. To help distract himself from the pain, he turned to his trumpet.

"I absolutely plunged myself into my musical studies after he passed away."

Ryan admits it took years to adjust to the loss of his dad. He's also aware of how that day shaped the rest of his life.

After Steve died, the Simpson family moved from Omaha back to Topeka.

"I wouldn't have my wife and my kids if we hadn't moved back to Topeka," he said. "All the good stuff in my life is a product of that event changed the direction of our lives. While it was a pretty hard hill to climb, there has been some good that came out of the situation."

Ryan graduated from Washburn, like his father, and became a band director. He's taught music for two decades.

On Aug. 24, Ryan will do something, musically, he's never done before.

Before the Kansas City Royals host the Colorado Rockies on Thursday afternoon, Ryan will play the national anthem at Kauffman Stadium.

"I've been practicing like a mad man, playing the anthem 10-15 times a day," Ryan said. "It's a full-circle bucket list kind of thing. It's a tribute to my dad."

Ryan says he sent in a 90-second audition video before the season began. The Royals called him and asked him to audition at Kauffman a few weeks later. He found out there was an available game shortly after that.

Plenty of parents, along with Seaman Middle School faculty, have told Ryan they'll be at the game Thursday afternoon. Ryan knows all eyes will be on him, but he'll be focused elsewhere.

"We're going to take [my mom," he said. "She hasn't been to the ballpark in nearly three decades."

He'll also be thinking about his dad, Steve.

"I know for a fact it would mean everything to him. I wish he was here. It would be special."