But first, a little background. A woman named Heather, the mom of one of Margaret's friends, attended Jack's funeral along with more than 1600 other people. In the front of the church, on the communion table, sat a photo of Jack. Next to the photo was Jack's Yankees hat. Heather didn't know Jack, but she did know a Yankee, and she wondered if he could bring a little comfort to our hurting family. On her next business trip to see one of her business associates, the Yankee, she asked if he could sign a ball for us.
What Heather didn't know was that her client, Mariano Rivera, was Jack's favorite baseball player! She didn't know the Yankees jersey Jack wore had Rivera's name and number on it, or that Tim and Jack had been following Rivera's amazing progress in setting a new record in baseball at the time of Jack's accident. She didn't know that Tim had been contemplating writing Mariano-- a talented, humble, man of faith-- a letter of appreciation for being such a good role model for our son.
Here's Tim's letter as well as pictures taken from a Yankees/Orioles game one week before our lives changed forever:
Thank you for sending an autographed baseball to my daughter, Margaret, following the death of her brother, Jack. I was so surprised when Heather brought the ball to Margaret because Jack loved the Yankees and was a big fan of yours, as am I.
As a life-long Yankees fan, I was excited, but not surprised, that my son shared my passion for baseball and the Yankees. My favorite part of the day was having a catch with him in the yard, such a peaceful time to share together, just the two of us. Sometimes we talked and other times we just enjoyed the sound of the ball popping in our gloves and the rhythm of the catch, back and forth, back and forth.
I remember at the beginning of the 2011 season, Jack asked me if I thought you would break the save record in 2011. I told him that I thought it would probably take two years, perhaps early in the 2012 season. But you had another remarkable year and by the end of August it was becoming clear that you would break the record this year. On August 29, Jack and I went to Baltimore to watch the Yankees play the Orioles. The Yankees won 3-2, and you got the save. Jack wore his Mariano Rivera shirt that night, and we basked in the Yankees victory and the opportunity to witness history as you closed in on the record. After the game, Jack and I talked about what a remarkable player you are—not just in terms of talent and what you have accomplished on the field—but also in terms of how you play the game. We talked about your interviews, and how you always acknowledge God and your teammates. You are a picture of humility in a profession that often promotes just the opposite. I thank you for that.
As you neared the record, Jack and I would check the sports page every morning to see if you recorded another save. We were both looking forward with great anticipation to the day you would break the record.
On September 8, Jack went out in the neighborhood to play in the rain with some friends and his sister. He got too close to a swollen creek, fell in, and drowned. The loss has been devastating. We miss our Jack so much—every day. But we are comforted by our faith. Jack trusted Jesus Christ as his Lord and savior and so do we. He had even told us before the accident that he was not afraid to die because heaven is such an awesome place.
I remember the day you broke Trevor Hoffman's record, I came home early from work to watch the end of the game on TV. It was an afternoon game, and if Jack were alive he would have been home from school watching with me. Watching you record the final three outs was bittersweet. I watched with tears in my eyes as you struck out the last batter—happy for your accomplishment but filled with sadness that Jack was not there to share the moment with me.
After Jack passed away, many friends and acquaintances from school, scouts, little league, and church came to visit and share with me special memories and stories about Jack. I enjoyed hearing every one. But it struck me that it should not have taken a tragedy for people to share these stories and remembrances of Jack. I would have preferred to hear them while he was still alive. I could have shared them with Jack to encourage him and let him know the impact he was making on others.
And so I thought of people that I would like to share memories and stories with, to encourage them, to thank them, and to let them know that they are making a difference in my life or my family's life. This list of people was exclusively family and friends, except for you. I thought about writing a letter to let you know that you are impacting the lives of Yankee fans, old and young alike. You are an exemplary role model—choosing to carrying yourself with class and dignity both on the field and off and, above all, choosing to put God first in all circumstances. That is how I want to live my life and raise my children.
I thought about writing you a letter for several weeks but never did anything about it, resigning myself to the fact that even if I wrote you a letter and tried to submit it as fan mail, you would never get to read it. And then Heather visited us with the baseball you signed for Margaret. Unbelievable! It was totally unexpected and delivered with perfect timing. Given the emotions your milestone save had evoked in me, receiving your autographed ball was like receiving a sign from God and a wink from Jack in heaven. I asked Heather if she could deliver a letter to you. She graciously said she would. I could not believe I had the opportunity to have my letter hand delivered to you. But then I remembered Jack's favorite bible verse: For nothing is impossible with God. Luke 1:37. Thanks Jack. And thank you Mariano for all you do, both on the field and off.