MARS — Early in the morning, long before his two daughters awaken, Matt Grill likes to peek into their rooms to watch them sleep.
Now that they are older, Grill is coming to terms with the fact that soon both his daughters will be gone.
No one to look in on in those early hours of the day.
No quite moments to share.
An empty nest.
His older daughter, Kailey, 20, is a student at Penn State University. His younger daughter, Meghan, 18, is a recent North Catholic High School graduate.
“When Kailey left for school, I looked into her room and she was gone and it was like ...” Matt pauses, then lets out a long sigh. “But I could always still see Meghan.
“When she leaves,” Matt adds, sighing again, “it's going to be hard.”
“You're going to have to watch Fenway sleeping,” Meghan jokes about the family dog, a rambunctious cockapoo.
Matt and Meghan have a particularly strong bond, forged from the love of baseball and softball and cultivated from the moment she first slipped on her pink baseball glove at the age of 4. She wanted to be just like daddy.
It's their common language.
It's their common passion.
“I don't remember life without baseball or softball,” Meghan said.
That's because there hasn't been a day of Meghan's life when baseball has been absent from the Grill home.
Matt was the starting center fielder at Indiana University of Pennsylvania for three seasons and then played 20 more in a 28-and-over baseball league in the Pittsburgh area.
Matt's father, Donald, played semi-pro baseball. His father, Robert, also played semi-pro baseball.
“It's kind of in our blood,” Matt said. “Even when Meg was young, baseball was a big part of our life.”
Now 51, Matt has finally hung up his cleats.
Meghan, on the other hand, continues wearing hers on the softball field.
“I grew up going to his games every single summer,” Meghan said. “I don't think there was a point in my life when I didn't think I was not going to play softball. I found a picture of me, 4-years-old, with a pink glove. That's just what I did.”
And Meghan is doing it well.
She was a star at shortstop and a fixture in the middle of the North Catholic softball lineup during her high school career, which was cut short this spring by the coronavirus pandemic.
With no games to play, Meghan and her father continued to bond, working on her skills in the driveway and backyard and at nearby fields.
Matt peppers Meghan with ground ball after ground ball — something he disliked when his father did the same when he was a kid.
Matt preferred chasing down fly balls.
“I hate the outfield,” Meghan said, laughing. “It's so funny. He hates the infield and I hate the outfield.”
“My dad was a shortstop, though, so ...” Matt says before Meghan interjects.
“That's where I get it from,” Meghan chuckles.
Matt's expectations for his two daughters were always evolving.
Very different daughters
Matt thought Kailey was going to be the one to chase an athletic career.
Gifted at a variety of sports, Kailey decided to go in another direction, however — beauty pageants.
“That seemed to be her thing,” Matt said. “Meghan started getting into sports.”
Kailey was gifted at that, too, becoming Miss Pennsylvania Teen USA in 2018.
“To be honest, it was hard with Kailey,” Matt said. “Growing up in an all-boy family, I didn't know what a beauty pageant was. My wife (Heather) handled a lot of that stuff.”
Then Matt saw what it took for Kailey to compete in pageants. He saw the long hours. The commitment. The stress of competing at the high level and got a whole new appreciation for what Kailey was doing.
It wasn't much different than playing baseball or softball.
“(Kailey) was doing the same thing Meghan, just in a different aspect.”
Meghan saw it, too.
“I respect what she does because I don't think I could ever do it,” she said. “She's great at it.
“He definitely taught us the mental side of things,” Meghan added. “Even though she does beauty pageants and I do softball — and they are totally opposite things — there's the same mindset behind it. You have to be mentally tough in both.”
As Meghan showed a deeper interest in sports — something of which Matt had a much greater understanding — he went about the job of molding her like his father molded him.
He found, though, he couldn't take the same approach.
Matt's father motivated through criticism and Matt responded to that well.
Meghan, however, didn't.
“Being positive and emphasizing the good things motivated her more than criticism.”
That doesn't mean the two always got along. There have been fights.
Lots of them.
“There's many moments when I questioned if I wanted to keep going,” Meghan said, grinning. “If I have a bad game, we take a week off from each other. But I wouldn't change it. He was super hard on me, and still really is, but I'm kind of taking over the legacy he had. It's fun.”
And Meghan will chase her dream where Matt did 30 years ago.
Meghan was being recruited for softball by several colleges, big and small.
IUP was one of them.
Matt held his tongue. He desperately wanted Meghan to chose his alma mater, but knew he couldn't push her into make that choice.
“Obviously, I wanted her to go to IUP,” Matt said. “It was my dream, but I wanted to make sure it was also her dream.”
Turned out it was. Meghan signed to play softball at IUP in November.
Matt may have been even more excited than she was.
“He never pushed for it,” Meghan said. “It was always my decision. Eventually it came down to that. I went to campus and was like, 'This is where I want to be.' The aspect of him playing there made me believe I have to go there. We would go to campus and he would show me around, show me where he ate and where he played. There's so many memories for him there.”
Meghan hopes to make some new ones.
It was important for her to go to a school where her family could see her play.
Matt's family never missed one of his games.
Matt intends to never miss one of his daughter's games, either.
He will be found pacing near the outfield wall, arms crossed on his chest.
“His dad did the same thing,” Meghan said. “You'd see some pictures of him, arms across his chest, watching.”
“I can't keep still,” said Matt, who also helped coach Meghan on her travel softball teams. “If she swings and misses, I walk even faster.”
Meghan said sometimes she tries to find her father before an at-bat, but can't.
“I know he's there, somewhere,” Meghan said, laughing. “I know he's always watching.”
Like when he peeks in to watch his daughters sleep.
“I had all girls, but that was cool,” said Matt, smiling, pointing out that his older brother and younger brother also each had two girls. “I love female athletes. These girls who play these days are so athletic and it's amazing.
“My goal was to have at least one of them play,” Matt added, chuckling. “It might not hit me now, but when Meg goes to college and she gets older, I think hitting her ground balls and playing catch with her will be my fondest memories.”