Taken too soon
My dad and I attended our first Vanderbilt baseball game together on May 10, 2016.
The Commodores hosted Louisville, who was ranked in the top five in the country at the time. Vandy's starting pitcher was freshman phenom Donny Everett. It was only his second career start.
Not exactly an easy task for a kid that had just turned 19-years-old less than a month prior.
Louisville struck early and often. It wasn't the start that the young Clarksville native or anyone else had wanted. But there would be more starts to come.
After all, Donny Everett was just a kid. He had his whole life ahead of him. He'd have plenty more chances to step on the mound at both the college and professional levels. He'd already turned down a contract with the Milwaukee Brewers so that he could come play baseball at Vanderbilt.
Why turn down millions of dollars in the pros for college? His quote in his Vandy bio sums it up best:
"The family here is just something you cannot pass up. The life lessons that coach Corbin can teach me, I will always remember. The education is great and will help my life after baseball and the memories I will make will be the best of my life."
He was a kid wanting to be a part of a special family. The Vanderbilt baseball family. The one that had already helped create bright futures for a countless number of players.
Everett was well on his way to getting that same type of future. And then it was all taken away from him. On Thursday night, his life came to an abrupt end after he drowned while on a fishing trip with friends. Among that group of friends were pitchers Ryan Johnson and Chandler Day.
Three kids just wanting to have fun and do a little fishing before the grind of the NCAA tournament started on Friday.
How could things go so wrong?
The news of Everett's death spread late Thursday night and into Friday morning. Vandy fans showed their support all across social media. Fans of teams with no connection to the situation did the same. Everyone understands the magnitude of such a tragedy.
A 19-year-old kid with the world at his fingertips. A kid with a fastball that would one day make him a millionaire. A kid that would one day become a husband. A kid that would one day become a father.
But just like that, it was all gone. A family had lost their son. A team had lost its brother.
I didn't know Everett or ever get the chance to interview him after several of the Vandy baseball games that I covered this season. But when a kid passes away, it rattles you. It creates a wide range of emotions, and not all can be understood.
When the news of his death had sunk in, the first thing I did was call my dad. We don't get to spend near as much time together as we'd like to. I asked him if he wanted to go the Vandy/Xavier game that night. He said yes. So we went.
Of course, after numerous weather delays, the game was rescheduled for Saturday. We still went.
On May 10, we watched Everett on the mound against Louisville. On June 4, we watched thousands in attendance at Hawkins Field bow their heads and observe a moment of silence in his memory.
How quickly things can change.
The team on the field on Saturday wasn't the same Vanderbilt team we'd seen all season. Xavier scored 13 runs in the top of the seventh inning, and went on to win the game in a 15-1 rout.
It took an enormous amount of strength for these players and coaches to show up and attempt to navigate the difficult road ahead of them. Everyone deals with death differently. There's no way of knowing how 18-22 year old kids will respond to such a traumatic moment in their lives.
The elimination game later that night against Washington was another chapter in the emotional roller coaster. After trailing 8-2, the Huskies rallied for seven unanswered runs to capture a 9-8 victory.Vandy's season was over. But the healing process was just beginning.
The events of those excruciating 48 hours were about more than baseball. They were about a family and community trying to make sense of something much bigger.
At one point during the Xavier game, I looked over at my dad in the seat next to me. And then I thought about Everett's parents, Teddy and Susan.
I couldn't begin to comprehend the amount of pain that they're feeling. They had so many years of quality time with their unbelievably talented son ahead of them.
And now they won't get that opportunity.
That thought just crushes you.
It also reminds you of how your entire life can change in an instant.
The Vanderbilt players and coaches will never forget this weekend. For them, this weekend was the beginning of a much tougher road.
They still have to attend Everett's funeral on Tuesday.
They still have to come to grips with the loss of their brother.
It will be a mourning process that will take time.
Lots and lots of time.
In the face of tragedy and adversity, Corbin and his team handled themselves the way that they always do: with a level of class and respect that Vanderbilt University and everyone that supports it would be proud of.
Even if it was undoubtedly the hardest thing that any of them have ever had to do in their entire lives.
I have no idea if Saturday's game will be the last time I have the opportunity to witness a Vanderbilt baseball game with my dad. If it was, I can honestly say that I cherished every minute of it.
Because that's what's most important. It's not about winning and losing. It's about family.
After all, family is what brought Everett to Vanderbilt.
And no one in the Vanderbilt family will ever forget him.