FARMINGTON — A Farmington soldier got a hometown welcome at the park where he worked as a ballboy when he was young.
Brian Varley, 24, returned last week from combat operations in the insurgency-torn Wardak province in Afghanistan on his first tour of duty with the Army's 173rd Airborne regiment.
Not long after his plane touched down Aug. 3 in Phoenix, Ariz., he got a call from his dad, Mark Varley, who told him get to Ricketts Park as soon as possible so he could throw out the first pitch before the start of the late game.
"My sister got me at the airport. We stopped in Shiprock so I could get my uniform on," Brian Varley said. "I reminded my dad that I hadn't thrown a ball in over five years."
Trained in rapid deployment, he arrived with 15 minutes to spare.
"Every summer as a kid, I was a runner or ballboy at Ricketts," he said. "But I always played baseball, second base when I was younger and in high school I moved to center field for my speed."
His dad wanted to make his son's reunion with his mom, Paulette Varley, a special one. And to do that, he got a little help from friend Kim Carpenter, Connie Mack World Series committee chairman.
"I was originally thinking I'd have him come into the press box -- something simple, have him meet his mom there," said Mark Varley, who runs the box at Connie Mack games. "To surprise his mom, I told her we were honoring a committee member."
Carpenter arranged for police officers to circle around Brian Varley as he walked onto the field, obscuring him from his family's view, and then he was concealed behind the biggest player on the Midland Redskins.
"When Kim started talking about Brian, my wife kept looking at me with this funny look on her face. I thought, 'I'm going to have to go to confession,'" Mark Varley said. "Then Brian stepped out from behind the Midland player, and everyone was blubbering."
It had been more than two years since the family had seen each other.
After a standing ovation and lots of tears and salutes, Brian Varley strode to the pitcher's mound and threw a strike right down the middle.
"I was just happy to be home, back in the states," Brian Varley said. "It was a big long hug with my mom and my family. There are no words for that."
He has wanted to be a soldier most of his life, spurred on by the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11.
"I went into airborne school after college so I could jump out of a plane," he said. "It's a mixture of courage and adrenaline junkie, I guess. Growing up, I rock crawled, cliff jumped -- you know, normal Farmington stuff. I love what I do, and that's not going to change."
His next post will be with the 1st Brigade, 82nd Airborne. He reports to Fort Bragg, N.C., on Wednesday.
"I compare this to the birth of a child," Carpenter said later. "The way I look at it, if it weren't for guys like Brian, we wouldn't be playing America's favorite pasttime."
Until he leaves, Brian Varley is enjoying downtime with family and friends.
Did he stay for the game in which the Redskins handed the Texas Stix a 17-1 loss?
"Oh yeah," he said. "I was rooting for whoever won the game 'cause I just like a good ballgame."