Ozarks Life: Kayden’s first pitch

Dustin Rhoades created the WHAC to help his son Kayden play catch
Published: Sep. 16, 2022 at 5:29 AM CDT
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OZARK, Mo. (KY3) - This past week, an All-Star came to Ozark.

Kayden is representing the Sioux City, Iowa, Miracle League. Kayden made a stop in the Ozarks for a ceremonial first pitch before a Grip N Rip game.

Before the game, Kayden played a game of catch with an Ozark Mountain Duck player.

We’ve seen that player before. Springfield’s Ethan Bryan wrote a book called A Year of Playing Catch. Over the past year, it’s inspired many people from around the nation to go outside and throw a ball.

Like Dan Bryan. We met him on Fathers’ Day weekend. He plays catch as a way to remember his son, also named Ethan Bryan, who was killed in a car accident.

On this day, it’s another father and son Ethan is sharing the game of catch with. Dustin Rhoades and his son Kayden.

“Dustin in his brilliance has invented these devices so kids have more independence and are able to play,” Ethan said.

Kayden was born with hydranencephaly, a rare brain condition. Given only 24 hours to live, Kayden just turned 15 years old.

“He’s missing an estimated 97% of his brain,” Dustin said about his son Kayden. “So it limits him on what he can and can’t do. But he’s with the help of Ability Tech, we can help a kid. And we’re proving that no matter what your disability is, there are endless possibilities.”

Ability Tech is Dustin’s Small Business. The former Marine invented this device called the WHAC; it stands for Wanna Have a Catch. It was created after a challenge from his Sioux City Miracle League director, Kevin Negaard. Kevin had just read Ethan’s book.

“He started his own ‘have a catch every day for a year campaign’ to raise money to support the Miracle League,” Dustin said. “And he came up to us and he’s like, ‘you got one year to make something that I can play catch with your son.’”

Dustin’s first invention was the “Switch Hitter” in 2019. Using the same hub, he rotated it, lifted it, and attached a throwing arm to make the WHAC. After some tweaking, Kayden uses the same head switches he uses to communicate to throw a ball.

“My favorite part of all of this is his first game of catch is with his mom,” Ethan said.

“The biggest thing for individuals like Kayden is their independence,” Dustin said.

“When he used to play,” Dustin said, “I had to hit the ball for him. I had to throw the ball for him. And then one day, I was like, ‘I’m tired of this. He’s got to do it.’”

Whether it’s hitting or throwing, Kayden’s family sees a difference when he’s playing baseball.

“Once we got him something that he’s more interested in,” Dustin says about Kayden’s WHAC device, “he reacts faster, he’s more interactive with it. So it’s nice to see him come out of his shell.”

“I know how important play is to being human,” Ethan said. “And Dustin is making it possible for more and more people to be able to play this great game.”

Kayden’s on his way to the Miracle League All-Star Game in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. He’ll be throwing out a ceremonial first pitch.

And this past week in Ozark, he had the chance to have a little practice at U.S. Baseball Park.

“To watch him have his own fun,” Dustin said, “when everybody said he wasn’t gonna be able to. That’s just it’s very humbling and a very proud moment to have.”

And our Springfield author, who inspired the WHAC’s creation, had a whack of his own in his first at-bat in front of his new friend, Kayden. And Ethan had a new bat for this game and included a Jackie Robinson quote: “A life is not important, except in the impact it has on other lives.”

“Ethan’s a great, great guy,” Dustin said. “And I think he’s started something quite large.”

Click here to learn more about Ability Tech and the Ability Tech Foundation.

If you’d like to order a copy of Ethan Bryan’s book, A Year of Playing Catch, click here.

To watch our previous stories with Ethan Bryan, click here for Chad’s first story about the book, and click here for Ethan’s connection with Dan Bryan and his Baseball Seams to Heal campaign.

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