ST. GEORGE, Utah (ABC4) – Not every kid has a batting cage in their backyard. Even fewer have a former Major League Baseball Most Valuable Player stopping by their cage to give them pointers on their swing.
12-year-old Ryder Bundy can claim both of those experiences after a visit from slugging legend Jose Canseco for some batting practice at his home on Wednesday.
The biggest tip that Canseco, who was named the 1988 American League MVP after becoming the first player in the game’s history to smash 40 home runs and steal 40 bases in a season, gave to Bundy naturally had to do with the long ball.
“He showed me how to flick my wrist and hit dingers,” Bundy explains to ABC4.com of what he learned during Canseco’s surprise visit.
The lesson and time spent with one of baseball’s most towering, and at times, polarizing, figures was the cherry on top of what has been a long and emotionally draining journey for Bundy and his family. When he was 10, he was diagnosed with a brain tumor. In combatting his cancer, the young ballplayer dealt with multiple rounds of chemotherapy and surgeries over the past two years that have depleted his strength immensely.
Once a dominant young player in the local baseball scene – his dad, Monty, says Ryder was a frequent home run hitter, not unlike Canseco in his playing days, finally reaching a clean bill of health in the summer took a toll on Bundy.
“He was hitting home runs and playing well and so it just emotionally for him to go to try to get back to the same level has been a struggle,” Monty says of Ryder.
Experiencing severe illness in the middle of a pandemic has been rough as well. When Make A Wish reached out to Bundy to grant a wish last year, his request was to travel to meet his favorite team, the Chicago Cubs. The organization, however, apologetically responded that travel-related wishes would be put on hold.
As a substitute wish, Bundy asked for a personal batting cage in his backyard. His dad remembers him saying, “Maybe a ballplayer can come to visit me at home.”
Sure enough, like the iconic line in the classic baseball movie, Field of Dreams, “If you build it, he will come,” the cage was built and a ballplayer did come, at the former star player’s own enthusiastic request after reaching out to Wittwer Hospitality while looking for an opportunity to give back while he was in town to compete in the Huntsman World Senior Games with his competitive softball team.
Even though Bundy was born eight years after Canseco had played his last game in the Major Leagues, he still knew who he was having watched many highlights of the one-time Bash Brother launch dinger after dinger into the bleachers on YouTube. He also saw one of Canseco’s most legendary bloopers, when a deep fly ball bounced off of his head and over the fence for one of the most unusual home runs in baseball history back in 1993.
Bundy didn’t dare bring up that moment on Wednesday though.
“No, he’s too big,” Bundy says when explaining why he didn’t rib his famous visitor, who stands at an incredibly muscular 6-foot-4.
Chances are though, Canseco would have taken the teasing in stride, he’s developed a sense of humor about the error, even posting novelty memorabilia about ‘The Bounce,’ as well as 40-40 Club merchandise on his personal website. Bundy and his dad both say that the occasionally embattled former star was “very funny,” cracking lots of jokes during their time together in the batting cage.
“He’s kind of just like a big, giant kid,” Monty describes of Canseco. Having grown up watching the Bash Brothers era of Canseco and fellow slugger Mark McGwire electrify baseball fans with skyscraping home runs, Monty was so excited to hear that Canseco would be stopping by his house, he texted everyone he knew to spread the news.
“It’s not every day a big leaguer comes to your house and hits in your cage and gives your kid batting practice and batting lessons,” Monty states, adding that Canseco brought his softball teammates along with him. “They made just made Ryder feel like a celebrity.”
Before leaving, Canseco left his mark on the batting cage, signing one of the support poles with an inscription encouraging Bundy to keep fighting and keep swinging for the fences.
While some sports fans may have mixed feelings towards Canseco, who in 2005 admitted to using performance-enhancing drugs during his career, the Bundy family counts themselves as huge fans of his for how he treated their cancer-surviving son.
“What was cool to me is, he’s such a giant of a man like he just commands such a presence, he’s just not a regular guy,” Monty says of Canseco. “And so to have him sit there and talk to Ryder, I just think he has a giant heart and he understands that he wants to give back.”