A first pitch, and then a hug for a returning Air Force sergeant's family
MANCHESTER — It was cool enough that 4-year-old Braylon Jones got to throw out a ceremonial first pitch at Friday night's New Hampshire Fisher Cats game. Then the catcher ran toward him, took off his mask and asked the surprised little boy for a hug.
Braylon was still in disbelief and at a loss for words minutes later that the catcher was his dad, Air Force Staff Sgt. Ian Jones, who returned home Friday from a four-month tour in Afghanistan and used the ballgame as a way to surprise his family.
"He doesn't even know what to do right now," dad said while holding his son.
"This is indescribable," Jones said. "This has been the best experience of my life, and I thank the Fisher Cats for letting it happen."
Outside of one member of the family, nobody knew Jones was coming home. That includes his wife, Ashley, and his mother, Julie Jones.
"I'm shocked," Ashley said while tears streamed down her cheeks. "I'm so surprised."
"This is so great," Julie said, sporting the similar tears. "I'm blown away."
Mike Ramshaw, senior vice president of sales for the Fisher Cats, said the team was eager to set up the event after receiving a call from Jones. The team even hosted the family, which included a large group of siblings and grandparents, in a luxury suite for the game.
"It was a no-brainer for us," Ramshaw said. "Anytime we can be a part of something like that, we're happy to support it."
Jones, who grew up in Manchester and is based at Hurlburt Field in Florida, was decked out in a Fisher Cats uniform, complete with a catcher's helmet and sunglasses to maintain the disguise. He said it was hard to keep up the ruse once he saw his wife and son.
"I just wanted to run right up to him," he said. "It was a great moment. It's amazing."