My Angel in the Outfield

October 20, 2014

What more could a kid ask for? It was a warm summer evening and I was practicing baseball with my 9 year old All-Star team. My dad, “Coach Tim” to everyone else, was leaning against the dugout on the 3rd base line. I knew my mom would be showing up soon to surprise the team with popsicles. Suddenly my dad collapsed and unbeknownst to me, my life was also about to collapse. The other coaches kept my teammates and I away while the paramedics loaded him into the ambulance. The popsicle I was supposed to be enjoying right now, didn’t taste very good.
The doctors told my dad he had a seizure because he had brain cancer. During the next eleven and a half months, he had four brain surgeries, chemotherapy and radiation, but nothing worked. I felt like I was watching my dad die. This is exactly what was happening. Initially the doctor told my dad he had between 5 – 10 years to live. During the next eleven months, the 10 years went down to 5 years, to 1 year and then to a few weeks and hospice.
That spring, my dad had hoped to coach my baseball team, the “Angels”. On Opening Day, I got a huge surprise when a helicopter hovered over the field and two Deputies repelled down with two baseballs. They gave the baseballs to my dad to throw out the first two pitches to my brother and I. At that point, he was weak and his walking was unbalanced, but he threw that ball as hard as he could and I caught it! The day prior, the doctor had told my dad his brain was swelling and he needed to go to the hospital. After learning that the baseball league wanted him to throw out the Opening Day pitches to his sons, the doctors agreed to postpone the hospital for one day. Sadly, after he threw out the pitches, my mom drove him to the hospital in Seattle and he would never come home again.
During those eleven months my dad and I had many conversations. He told me he wouldn’t be here to watch me graduate from high school, get married or meet my children. However, he assured me he would always be my angel and he would be watching me from heaven. He always told me to be strong, make good decisions and follow my dreams.
On June 4, 2006, my mom called the hospital at 5:00 a.m. after waking up from a nightmare that my dad had passed away. She was told that they were wondering if it was too early to call her, because it wasn’t looking good. She notified our Pastor, family and friends that the time was here, and then she gently woke me up saying we needed to be with dad.
I stood In a circle holding hands around my dad’s bed with my mom, brother, Pastor, Grandma, Uncle and a few of my dad’s close friends. My brother and I stood nearest to his head. Pastor Joe read my dad his last rights and made a cross on his forehead. As I watched his breath slow down and become more labored, I said goodbye at 7:50 a.m.
My dad went to the hospital after throwing me the first pitch on Opening Day and he passed away on the last day of the season. On that fateful day after saying goodbye, I went to the ballpark for the final game of the season. With opposing players, coaches and parents cheering me on, I pitched the game of my life.
I have continued to play baseball throughout high school and hope to play in college next year. I contribute my success to my father. He instilled in me his motto of, “All out all the time” and the importance of sportsmanship. These attributes help guide me both on the field and in life. Life is not always easy, but I find strength in my “angel in the outfield.
Tyler Gartner