After Jax died, people came out of the woodwork to give. Old friends from high school, acquaintances I forgot about and people I’ve never met scribbled cards, sent flowers and gifted money. The beauty of the human spirit wrapped us in a tight embrace when we needed it most. It was completely touching for us.
But a group of men I’ve never met in person stepped up in a shockingly, thoughtful way that touched me deeply with something I love – Angels baseball.
In 1998 I started a computer Strat-O-Matic 20-team baseball league with three friends. Remember, I’m a big baseball nerd. The four of us drafted players, traded for better ones and competed against seventeen computer teams in a 162-game season. Gradually the league expanded to 24 teams and other “human” owners settled in to run franchises in our Westside League.
The league is now in its 16th season of play. Owners have come and gone, leaving due to increased job responsibilities, a new addition to the family or lack of interest. But quite a few of today’s owners have participated in the league for several years. And while we only know each other from the internet, some of us have developed deep friendships as we mix in stories from our personal life between a brainstorm of mock rookie drafts, battling for a World Series championship and busting each other’s balls when our players start to suck in real life.
Led by Steve Jack – the league’s webmaster, my right-hand man and all around pot stirrer – this group of men put together funds and surprised me with an Angels jersey with “Jax” and the number 08 on the back, indicative of his birth year.
They also purchased a personalized brick that rests outside the front of Angels Stadium between the two large helmets. On the ground is a pitcher’s mound designed into the brick layout, and to the right of the mound lies the brick.
My buddy Ian and I set off to find the brick last night. It was opening night at Angels Stadium and we had tickets in our usual season seats in Section 240, Row A. But first, we needed to fuel up.
We hit up Del Taco for a quick bite before parking in our usual spot near Chapman and Eckhoff in Orange and hiking our usual trail under the 57 freeway overpass, over the Santa Ana riverbed and into the stadium’s parking lot. That’s my quesadilla. No, I didn’t spill water on it. It was that greasy. Now that’s impressive, even for Del Taco.
The packed stadium buzzed with anticipation and hope of an Angels season that will bleed into an October playoff run.The usual pomp and circumstances filled the outfield prior to the game, which turned out to be a crapfest for Angels fans.
Prior to taking our seats Ian and I scoured the bricked infield in search for the Westside League’s gift. All proceeds of the Angels Brick Program go to the Angels Baseball Foundation, which helps fund local and national youth organizations aimed at creating and improving youth programs in education, healthcare, arts and sciences.
Ian finally spotted the brick, which read his name and “Always Loved”. Jax’s interest in the Angels really started to pick up as he turned three. He sported an Angels hat or t-shirt often and his favorite player was Torii Hunter.
Four days before he died we went to a game with my wife’s family to celebrate Father’s Day with her grandpa. We had such a fun night as a family and Jax especially enjoyed watching a game from a baseball standpoint for the first time, and not just taking in the stimulation around him. We have a large canvassed photo in our living room of the five of us on that night. The brick memento ties together perfectly my love for the Angels, my love for Jax and my wish that he always be remembered.
The relationships I’ve built with these faceless baseball fans means more to me than my Boston Chowderheads winning another World Series. While it’s a virtual baseball world, we live real lives. And the support we’re able to offer each other in tragedy, sickness and the valleys of life make all the hours put in to run the league more than worthwhile.
Thank you Steve Jack and the Westside League.