Demi Riechers ended up with an unexpected decision: honor a promise to her older brother or take a unique opportunity to throw a pitch to a Kansas City Royals player.
Standing in the hallway under Kauffman Stadium on Friday, Aug. 4, Riechers — a seventh grade student at Platte City Middle School — went with family. The brother-sister duo went out on the field ahead of the Royals game with the Seattle Mariners with Demi firing a strike from just off the pitcher’s mound to brother Dalton Riechers behind the plate.
The Royals honored Demi Riechers as one of 10 national winners in the 2017 “Breaking Barriers: In Sports, In Life” essay contest, presented by Major League Baseball and Scholastic. She chose Dalton for her catcher, but at the last minute found out a Royals player was available if she wanted.
“I decided to let Dalton catch anyway,” Riechers said.
The Breaking Barriers educational program is designed to teach students about the obstacles Jackie Robinson faced as he broke baseball’s color barrier in 1947. Students write essays that illustrate how they were able to overcome obstacles or barriers in their own lives through the example set forth by Robinson, focusing on nine values he demonstrated: citizenship, commitment, courage, determination, excellence, integrity, justice, persistence and teamwork.
Demi Riechers wrote about her experiences as a Type-1 diabetic.
This year, 10 national winners were chosen out of tens of thousands of entries across North America. Each winning student received a new laptop computer and additional prizes for their class, including Breaking Barriers T-shirts and books written by Sharon Robinson — founder of the Breaking Barriers program and daughter of Jackie Robinson.
“We are thrilled to name this talented group of young writers as winners of the 2017 Breaking Barriers essay contest,” Sharon Robinson said in a statement. “Their touching stories of perseverance and triumph demonstrate an incredible amount of courage, and their commitment to overcoming barriers in their own lives is beyond admirable. These winners, like those in the past, are great representatives of what we seek to accomplish through the Breaking Barriers program.
“With the continued support of Major League Baseball and Scholastic, we look forward to continuing our family’s commitment to changing lives through education.”
Demi Riechers said she felt comfortable with the subject matter but didn’t necessarily expect to end up as a national winner.
“I was pretty much just writing my story,” she said. “I’m a huge softball and baseball fan. I love the Royals, and I know a lot about Jackie Robinson. When I heard about the contest, I was all for it. I like writing about my story.”
Jackie Robinson’s Hall of Fame career included a stint in the Negro Leagues with the Kansas City Monarchs. He eventually signed with the Brooklyn Dodgers, becoming the first African American player in Major League Baseball.
With the Riechers located so close to Kansas City, Breaking Barriers attempted to put them in touch with the Royals for tickets to a game. The Royals ended up inviting Demi Riechers to throw out a first pitch.
The plan called for Royals relief pitcher Scott Alexander — himself recently diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes — to serve as the catcher. When told he wouldn’t be available, Demi chose her brother to handle the duties.
Dalton Riechers said he let Demi make the final decision when Alexander was cleared to catch, and the older brother secretly felt good when he got the call, going out behind home plate instead of watching from the dugout.
With a glittery No. 42 shirsey and matching hair bow in honor of Jackie Robinson, Demi Riechers, a softball player, stood outside the mound and delivered an impressive strike on her pitch — equal parts fun and nervousness.
“It was kind of in between. It was fun, but at the beginning I was nervous,” she said. “I was pretty proud of myself.”
Since its inception in 1997, “Breaking Barriers: In Sports, In Life” has reached more than 31 million children and 4.2 million educators in the continental U.S., Canada and Puerto Rico. For more information on Breaking Barriers: In Sports, In Life, please visit mlb.com/breakingbarriers.