It is a hot, muggy day outside; the kind of day that the gnats just sort of hang in your face waiting to land on your perspiration. Yet, there is my son, Nick, in full baseball dress, socks all the way up and three-quarter length shirt under his jersey, throwing endless pitches to the catcher, trying to perfect that certain pitch, fast and over the base. His face concentrated on his imagined zone, pulling his cap down in front, the sweat darkening the bottom edge. He nods his head ever so slightly as the catcher squats and gives him the sign.
"Steeerrriiike 3," calls the ump.
Whew, what a game! We can now head home only to do this over again on Saturday morning. As usual, it takes a while for him to cool down, so I wait. People have been telling us that he is good; no, they say he is great, and he is only eleven years old.
Six years later.
Northern winds are blowing down from Canada and we are bundled up in the grandstands cheering on our High School baseball team. The snow has melted but the spring is taking awhile to get here. Nick is pitching a no-hitter and if he succeeds, his team will win the division and go on to compete in a tri-state Championship series. The scouts have been a part of our life since his sophomore year and he is ready to sign as a top prospect any day now, deciding to skip college. His team went on to the tri-state series, but Nick suffered an injury and would have to have surgery. They signed him anyways, and he spent his first year rehabbing his elbow under the hot sun of the Angels Training Facility in Mesa, Arizona.
In a court room in Southern California:
The accused approaches the judge’s bench. The judge reads the numbered violations including a DUI.
"How do you plead?"
"Guilty, your honor."
"You are hereby ordered to take alcohol education classes. Your license is now suspended and you are fined $3000.00. Next case…”
It's now 2008 and this seems to be the year when Nick steps up out of the minors and into the majors. His major league debut playing against Oakland would happen the same day he pitched a season-high eight scoreless innings in the minors. He would be the youngest active-roster pitcher in the majors. Nick would move back down to the minors for awhile, but continued to have outstanding stats. It’s spring, 2009 and The California Angels decided to give Nick a chance again.
The cell phone rings. It's Nick. "Dad, you got to come out, something great is going to happen. I know it."
In a bar somewhere in Orange County, the cold brews keep arriving. The game is on in every corner as the patrons watch the young prospect pitch six scoreless innings.
A beautiful, popular Cal State Cheerleader sits in the stands watching her friend Nick. She sends a text message to her Mom.
" hes doing so great, hes on fire...im so proud of him. we are going dancing after the game" (send).
Along with Nick's two other friends, the four recollect the game of poise, and perfection and with modesty, project a future super-stardom as they cruise through the streets of the OC.
"911 operator, what's your emergency?"
"Please, hurry, there’s been a horrible crash...in the intersection...yeah, Orangethorpe and Lemon...Oh God..."
Two are dead at the scene. Nick succumbs at the hospital. The fourth young man is in critical condition. The drunken coward ran the red light and then ran from the scene. He is quickly apprehended; his blood alcohol level three times the legal limit.
I now stand over his cold body in the equally freezing cold hospital room shivering from shock probably instead of the cold because my body is numb. I am thinking about all the hot summer days we spent preparing for what would be his greatest night pitching in the majors, his last night. My pain is unbearable. How am I going to tell his mother, his fans back home? Why God?
Accompanied by his two friends, our Nick, number 34 is now a real angel. A hot prospect in the minors, hot tonight on the baseball mound, now his cold right hand that once clutched that baseball, I clutch to my face. One cold-hearted selfish act destroyed many lives.
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