I said your name today, accidentally, instead of saying Lucas, and I cried. That’s happening a lot lately, but that’s ok. See, that means you are always on my mind. Perhaps it’s the stress lately, the lack of sleep, or the upcoming events in your memory. Whatever it is, one of the events is coming to an end. 4 years. Your number was 4. You left us on the 4th. What started with a game in which Jose Bautista, your favorite player, played, will end with one as well. I think it feels right.
On June 19, 2012, you got to see your favorite player in action. You put on your Jose Bautista “shirsey” which you FINALLY got for Christmas. You strategically brought a Brewers jersey with you to wear over the top of it so you could cheer for both teams. We showed up early, just like we always did, for BP. We ran down to our seats in section 107 to start getting foul balls, or try to get a player to give you a ball. That’s when it happened. A ball rolled out to the right field grass and there he was, Jose Bautista. Jose picked up the ball, looked over at you and walked over to the stands. He kindly handed you the ball. You were on cloud 9. Your favorite player gave you the ball. Cloud 9. I don’t think you every came down off that high.
When the Brewers were up, you had your Brewers jersey on. But when Jose was up, you proudly bared your Bautista shirsey. In the top of the 6th, Jose went yard and you were screaming you were so happy. People around us gave you the stare, but you didn’t care. And then again in the 9th, with the Brewers winning, he went yard again, this time the game winner and you were cheering very loudly. What a day for you.
On August 4th, 2013, you left us. God took you home. On August 9th, we buried you in that Bautista shirsey, with the ball that Jose gave you there with you. Your prized possession and your favorite shirt. We left the cemetery and I pulled my phone out of my pocket only to see 100+ messages. Some young students in Fennimore had started a “Game For Derek” twitter request to Jose Bautista, he obliged and dedicated the game to you. It was a bad game for the Blue Jays, as they gave up a bunch of runs, but our living room was full of people, sitting on pins and needles for every Jose Bautista at-bat. In his 2nd at bat, Jose rips a deep double off the wall in LF. So close to a homerun. We thought it might happen. In his 3rd at bat a DEEP drive to left, caught. We are all doing the math. He might only have one at bat left. And then it came. With most of the people congregating outside and talking, he stepped to the plate. We quickly called everyone in. Pat Neshek was on the mound, a nephew of a man with Fennimore ties. On a 2-1 pitch, Jose took him yard, and not a cheap one either. A 417’ shot off the decking of the 3rd deck. You’d want to know how far it went. You were a numbers kid. We were screaming and crying. It was so amazing. But wait, the Blue Jays were scoring runs. He might get another at bat. In the 9th he bats again and rips a drive off the wall, AGAIN, just missing another homerun. What an amazing night. What you probably already knew, was that Jose wrote RIP on one side of his hat, and #Derek on the other. We would meet in Minneapolis in September, hug, and cry, and he gave you that hat.
That was the start of our Acts of Kindness campaign. We realized we had to keep paying it forward. So we decided to have an annual “Derek’s Day At The Ballpark.” And wouldn’t you know, the Blue Jays were coming back to town in 2014, a game I am SURE we would have been going to, if not the entire series. Why not have our first ever Derek’s Day be at that game, and share it with Jose? You would have wanted it that way. You couldn’t draw a better script. 475 people came with us that day. We gave away over $2,000 in gift certificates that day along with other memorabilia. The Brewers helped out. I got to throw out the first pitch (and so did Grandpa, amazingly). I pointed to you, and fired in a strike. Some amazing things happened that day. Every inning Jose came out to right field he threw a brand new signed baseball into the crowd, in our section. Every inning. And then in the 6th he launched a bomb. It was great. But probably the most amazing thing happened in the 9th inning. The bat boy from the Blue Jays came trotting out to the right field corner and presented us with the bat he hit the homerun with and he wrote a message to you on it. “To Derek, I will always remember you as my #1 FAN. Thanks for all the help with the homeruns. Jose Bautista 19.” We all cried. It was amazing.
Three years have passed since our first Derek’s Day At The Ballpark. We have had over 1000 people join us, and we have done HUNDREDS of Acts of Kindness. Bill Schroeder, Brian Anderson and Jeff Levering have talked about our group, and given your amazing spirit credit for these wonderful Acts that have been done. I even re-proposed to your mom at last year’s event. But it is all coming to an end this year. One final day at the park. Sure we have one in August so that more kids can come, but this is the one with the most meaning.
Today we head to Miller Park with 110 people, and how fitting, we get to watch your favorite player in action one last time. But we are doing something a little more special this year. Instead of handing out hundreds of Acts of Kindness at the park, we teamed up with the Stars and Stripes Honor Flight to send veterans to the war memorials in Washington DC. For every extra base hit the Brewers have this year, we will donate $5 to the group and for every homerun Jose hits this year, we will donate $25. But wait, there is more. Today’s game has even more meaning. We have invited the Stars and Stripes Honor Flight reps to join us. If Jose gets a hit today, we will donate $100. If he hits a homerun (we hope he does), we will automatically send a veteran to DC. These flights cost a little over $500, and so far we have donated $990. Yes, the Brewers lead the majors in extra base hits. It’s actually kind of crazy.
So today I will be thinking of you, as we head to the game, and how much fun you would be having. I know we would have taken you out of school, and we would have gotten to the game bright and early for batting practice. You’d be bigger now, so you’d probably have the full jersey today. You wouldn’t even bother putting the Brewers one over top. You’d wear it with pride. So today I will honor you again. We are wearing tie-dye red today, and in August we’ll wear rainbow tie-dye. You’d love the colors. I miss you buddy. Everyone does. Make some magic happen today. See you at the game.