An emotional season
GJ's Dixon deals with brother's death, elbow surgery during senior year
Ty Dixon laughs about his oldest brother’s hair.
“I miss his hair. He had the gnarliest ‘fro ever,” Ty said, smiling at the memory. “It was ugly and gnarly. But he loved his ‘fro.”
Troy Dixon got the hair gene in the family.
Ty, who plays left field and pitches for Grand Junction High School, enjoys talking about Troy and their time growing up.
“I just miss him being there and all his snotty comments. He was always really funny,” Ty said.
When his thoughts turn to June 8, 2013, the smile vanishes and his lips tighten. Emotions stir, and he pushes them down.
Ty is a soft-spoken senior who corrals his emotions when he remembers that day.
Troy Dixon was 23 when he died on June 8, 2013, in a freak drowning accident in the Redlands Canal.
Ty enjoys talking about growing up in a baseball family with his two older brothers, Troy and Conner.
Ty pauses when he thinks about the worst day of his young life. That’s the day when his brother, coach, idol, mentor and one of his best friends died.
When baseball season arrived, Ty had one request — to wear No. 4 to honor Troy, who wore that number when he played outfield for the Tigers.
The baseball field is Ty’s sanctuary, a place to play the game he loves and to push away the memories of June 8, 2013, for a little while. But it’s not easy.
“A lot of times it’s been distracting, and that’s the hard part,” Ty said. “When you come to the baseball field, you have to focus, and that’s the hardest part, just letting it go for two hours. It’s always running through my mind. I just try to push it as far back as possible and focus on the game.”
For Tom Dixon, the grieving father, there was worry about a young son.
“When you’re 17 or 18 years old, you don’t know how to handle grief,” he said, “so Ty kept a lot of it in. For him there was a lot of pent-up grief.”
Ty’s baseball family, both teammates and coaches, have offered comfort and support.
“They were a great source of understanding,” Tom said. “They allowed him to focus on baseball and focus on the healing.”
Ty has pitched eight games this season, mostly as the cagey, change-of-pace left-hander who comes on in relief.
He makes the less-than-macho confession that he likes to sing Katy Perry songs on the mound to help keep him calm. But he also thinks about Troy, and he will glance at his glove where he has “6-8-13” written on the thumb. He looks to Troy to help him get out of those tough jams as a relief pitcher.
“Every time I go in to pitch, I’m talking to myself like he’s listening. I just always keep him in mind when we’re trying to win the game.”
April 29 was Senior Night for Grand Junction, playing Central at Suplizio Field, and it was the biggest game of the season for the Tigers. It was the toughest game of the season for Ty, who dedicated it to Troy.
“It was running through my mind a lot more than usual,” he said about thoughts of Troy.
There were tears, then there was baseball. Ty scored the Tigers’ first two runs and pitched the ninth inning in the 7-3 victory to help secure a playoff spot for the team.
Troy would have been proud of little brother.
It was a tough night for Dad, too.
“I just realized that was the first time I was on the field since Troy’s Senior Night,” Tom said.
On that night, Troy hit a home run on the final at-bat of his career. It was the only home run of his career. “It was a confirmation to what baseball has meant to our family,” he said about Ty’s Senior Night.
For Ty, it was a confirmation of what Troy meant to him.
“He was a very big influence on me, and he coached a lot, too, for younger kids. He was a real role model for me,” Ty said.
It’s not easy for a teenager to deal with the death of an older brother. There’s shock, sadness, confusion and torment. Then it’s time to move on.
Ty isn’t comfortable talking about Troy in the past tense and guards his emotions. He limits his words, so those emotions don’t overpower him.
“It’s not fun, but you kind of have to go through it and realize it’s a reality,” Ty said.
For Ty, it was the worst summer ever. First, Troy’s death, then elbow surgery 28 days later.
A craggy four-inch scar is a reminder of a unique surgery needed because Ty has an extra muscle in his elbow. The muscle was pressing on a nerve, making his left hand go numb, so they removed the nerve.
Worst summer ever.
With so much adversity, Tom was worried about his youngest son as he started his senior year.
“He missed summer baseball and was dealing with the loss (of Troy), so there was just a whirlwind of emotions,” Tom said. “We’ve been real proud of how he’s handled things.”
Ty’s eyes brighten when memories of growing up return.
Ty, Conner and Troy were always rambunctious and active brothers. Playing catch, Whiffle ball and badminton in the backyard are great memories for Ty.
“It was a way we could all bond and have time together,” he said.
The natural question is: Who was the best baseball player?
Ty’s smile pops, then morphs into a mischievous grin, already knowing the answer.
“I’d have to say me,” he said and laughed. “I always beat them in Whiffle ball, so I’m gonna say me.”
Ty and his Grand Junction teammates will have at least one more game in their high school careers Saturday.
Baseball is the fun part, the easy part for Ty. It remains his sanctuary, but it’s also when memories of Troy are the closest.
On the underside of his GJ cap, Ty has written “6-8-13” and a Bible verse from 2 Chronicles 15:7: “... be strong and do not give up, for your work will be rewarded.”
Ty has been strong during the toughest year of his life. And he has been rewarded with a fun senior season of baseball and difficult life lessons that youngsters shouldn’t have to learn this soon.
But it is the reality, and Ty has hung tough during tough times.
After the worst day and the worst summer of his life, Ty has adjusted to life without Troy. But he will never forget the memories and lessons from a big brother, mentor and role model gone way too soon.
Playing baseball, Whiffle ball and badminton with his brothers. And remembering the gnarliest ‘fro ever.
Even when they’re gone, big brothers never seem to stop mentoring little brothers.
That’s just the reality.