Cody Allen looked on at the boy splashing his hands in the plastic water table and giggling at the family dog running wild in the backyard. This was just a small moment before he headed back to the ballpark for another day of duty as the Indians' closer. But it's the kind of moment he cherishes as his first Father's Day and his son's first birthday approaches.
Cason Allen will turn 1 on Thursday. He's a happy, healthy child. He's prone to pointing and smiling at strangers and making fast friends. He's prone to picking up balls and hurling them with his small but powerful right arm, just like he's watched his daddy do on TV. Sure, he's a bit of a mama's boy, quick to dash to Cody's wife Mallory's side whenever he stumbles or gets a scratch. But he has both parents wrapped around his little finger.
"This first year of his life and our first year of parenthood has been unbelievable," Allen said. "We've enjoyed every single second of it."
But reaching this point of parenthood was a bigger test of resolve than the Allens could have possibly envisioned when they first began trying to start a family. And their strength, spirit and eventual outcome is, one can only hope, a positive reinforcement for the many couples silently suffering with the struggle to have a baby.
In 2016, while Allen was putting together perhaps his best big league season on an Indians club that won the American League pennant, his success masked the heartbreak of Mallory's two miscarriages. As tends to be the case in our culture, the early pregnancy losses put the Allens in the awkward and upsetting position of not knowing who to tell or what to blame.
"You feel so low," Allen said. "You almost start thinking, 'What are we doing wrong?'"
It's a common feeling, but also a misguided one.
The Mayo Clinic estimates that about 10 to 20 percent of known pregnancies end in a miscarriage, defined as the spontaneous loss of a pregnancy before the 20th week. That's a significant number, yet a study published in 2015 by the National Institutes of Health found that 55 percent of survey respondents believed miscarriages are uncommon.
This misconception fuels the stigma attached to infertility. We don't talk about it. We don't know how to talk about it. But knowing that so many others have suffered such a loss -- in effect, normalizing the process, albeit without minimizing the hurt -- can be beneficial. In that NIH study, 28 percent of respondents said disclosures of miscarriages by public figures assuaged feelings of isolation.
That's why Allen was willing to talk about his experience. He's not looking for sympathy, because he knows there are couples who endure far worse and don't reach a happy ending to their story. But he also knows what it meant to him, after Mallory revealed the couple's losses to a group of player wives in a chapel service, to have some teammates approach him quietly in the clubhouse and tell him they had been through something similar.
"When people were sharing their experience with us, that was a huge benefit," Allen said. "That's why we were able to spin that perspective and kind of have some hope and move forward, understanding a lot of people go through it."
When Allen watches his young son play, his heart is full. But he still remembers vividly what it felt like to have his heart ripped out.
It was on a road trip in Minnesota early in the 2016 season that Mallory first told him she was pregnant. That night, Allen gave up a walk-off RBI single to Miguel Sano, a gut-wrenching defeat. But he returned to the team hotel, saw the little onesie Mallory had bought for the baby and was instantly uplifted. He had no idea that just a couple weeks later, Mallory would feel pains in her abdomen and go to the doctor, who told her she was miscarrying.
Allen was on the road without his wife, and he felt helpless.
"You're not only mourning the loss of a child, but mourning for your wife, too," Allen said. "Because this stuff is all happening to her body."
There would be more joy and then more pain later in the regular season. Mallory got pregnant again in the summertime, and she was with Cody on an August trip to New York. Very early on a Saturday morning, she felt those familiar pains, so they went to an emergency room in Lower Manhattan, where, once again, they were given the dreaded news.
"I remember going to the ballpark that day," Allen said, "and just feeling completely empty."
Mallory preferred to let Cody speak on behalf of the couple for this story, but Cody is quick to credit her strength and grace as their guideposts as the Allens, who are devout in their Christianity, navigated their way through adversity they had simply never imagined when they got married.
"She was unbelievable through it all," Allen said. "She just kind of held me up and said, 'We're going to lean into this, continue to try and go with the flow here.'"
Allen looks back now on the miscarriages as a strangely calming influence on his pitching. He was brilliant that October, allowing no runs and striking out 24 batters in his 13 2/3 innings in the postseason. He didn't let the ebbs and flows of the game or the threat posed by opposing baserunners get the best of his nerves, because he could look into the stands toward where his wife was sitting and know that there are far bigger travails in life.
That's an outlook that continues to guide Allen through every win or loss to this day.
"You're talking about one of the worst things you could possibly go through, compared to a game," Allen said. "Being able to have that perspective kind of took the chains off a bit and freed me up to just make a pitch instead of worrying about the results so much. I understand this is my livelihood, but you know we're going to come out of this and be OK."
Soon after the loss of the second pregnancy, the Allens began talking seriously about adopting a child. It's an idea they have been open to from the beginning of their marriage, and it's one they might yet pursue.
But during the 2016 World Series, Cody and Mallory, who had decided to put the pregnancy talk on the back burner for a while, got their biggest -- and most pleasant -- surprise yet when they returned home in the middle of the night after Game 5 in Chicago. Mallory took the test that revealed she was pregnant with Cason.
This time, they approached their first appointment with a mixture of excitement and fear. Cody was performing on the loftiest stage of his baseball life, but that didn't stop him from accompanying Mallory when she visited the doctor on the morning of Game 7. And though the loss to the Cubs that night stung and still stings, he can look back at that day and the weeks and months that followed and remember the thrill of graduating through each stage of the pregnancy.
"When we did the bloodwork and everything checked out great at nine weeks, we were just floating," Allen said. "Because we hadn't hit that checkpoint yet [with the prior pregnancies]. So every little thing that maybe some others take for granted, we didn't."
The Indians were in Baltimore last spring when Mallory went into labor with Cason. Allen jumped on a plane and arrived to the delivery room with about 45 minutes to spare. The boy was born with some complications. Cason had hip dysplasia, or instability of the hips, and infant torticollis, a twisted neck from womb positioning. Mallory had sudden onset preeclampsia, a pregnancy disorder characterized by high blood pressure. But to the Allens, these were merely mild concerns in the big picture.
Cason had arrived safely, and that's all that really mattered.
When an orthopedic specialist told Mallory he would have to put Cason in a hip brace, she just nodded right along.
"You're the first mom that I've told this to that hasn't walked out of here in tears," the doctor told her.
"We've been through worse," she responded.
One year later, Cason is doing great, and the Allens can look back on those 10 weeks that he wore the hip brace -- 10 weeks in which changing his diapers was legitimately a two-person job -- and remember them as a blessing, not a challenge.
"We all have a plan, and a lot of times that plan gets blown up," Allen said. "But you just roll with it. There's nothing else you can do but do what you have to do."
Thanks to a love that never wavered, their faith, their families, their friendships and their little birthday boy, Cody and Mallory endured some of life's harshest blows and came out with a deeper appreciation for what they have, the beautiful life they are building together.
But that doesn't mean they've stopped thinking about what they lost. They had names for the babies that were never born. They picture what those children might have looked like.
"We never ran away from what happened," Allen said. "We talked about it, and we still talk about it."
So often, these losses are endured in the dark. But if nothing else, frank and open discussion can help destigmatize a situation that is simply not very rare.
It can also lend greater gravity to those small moments like the one in Allen's backyard. A sun-splashed day, a smiling child and a father looking on with love and deep appreciation for his little boy and how precious this all is.