‘I just ... I just pitch for him’
Being with Miami Dade family helps Evans cope with his father's death
His father was a surfer, not a baseball player.
So, left-handed pitcher Robert Evans III didn’t learn the game of baseball from Robert Evans II so much as he developed under his father’s watchful and supporting eyes.
“He always watched. Never got crazy like some of the parents. He always watched, very quiet. Just there,” Evans said Friday afternoon after playing the unlikely postseason hero one more time for Miami Dade College (Florida).
The younger Evans pitched the first four innings of a victory in the championship game of the Gulf District tournament — the Sharks call it the state tournament — and Thursday he came through on the biggest stage: the Alpine Bank Junior College World Series.
The Sharks now are one of two teams left vying for the national title, needing two wins against the tourney’s only unbeaten team, Iowa Western Community College, to reign as the NJCAA Division I baseball champion.
Absent from the stands in both of those games, though, was the elder Evans. He now watches from a different realm.
Robert Evans II died May 2 at age 51 after a history of heart issues, and his son could have forsaken baseball this month without any of his fellow Sharks questioning the freshman’s priorities. Instead, the son has continued to play to help his teammates, his baseball brothers, and to honor his father.
“Every time I go out there,” Evans said Thursday, “I just …”
He paused to take a breath, sniffled, then continued, “I just pitch for him.”
Evans has gotten opportunities this month that he did not get during the regular season. Thursday’s start was merely his third of the season, but Miami Dade coach Danny Price said Evans was tabbed during the state tournament on a gut feeling.
“When we were at state, one of the assistant coaches said, ‘Let’s go with Robert.’ And they told me why,” Price said. “They said all the guys would have his back. Hmmm, that kind of hit home. He went out and did a good job.”
Tabbing Evans to pitch Thursday, one day after the Sharks were reeling from a 10-0, five-run beating by Iowa Western, Price’s reason for trusting Miami Dade’s season with Evans was less instinctual and more practical.
“Today he pitched because he’s probably about the last man standing, to be honest with you,” Price said.
Evans was far from perfect, but he was good enough, and his teammates definitely had his back, turning two double plays to help him out of jams in the second and third innings.
And the offensive support was tremendous. The Sharks put six runs on the board in the second inning en route to a 13-2 win in a game shortened to five innings by the run rule.
Evans pitched all five of those innings with his father on his mind and for the sake of his teammates.
“The whole team, throughout everything that’s happened, they’ve always had my back. They’re always making sure I’m OK, and I just want to do my part for them and just give everything I’ve got,” Evans said. “No matter the outcome, I know I’m going to give everything I’ve got for them.”
That’s what the Sharks got Thursday, and Price said Miami Dade desperately needed that performance to save arms for tonight’s game, and hopefully for one more game for the championship Saturday.
After the game, Price said, Sharks pitching coach Kevin Long had tears in his eyes.
“And he’s one of those feisty guys that don’t show much emotion at all,” Price said. “But today after the game, he had tears in his eyes, and I knew, I knew where it was coming from, because he was just so proud of somebody.”
What Evans has done, shouldering the sadness of his father’s death and still serving as the southpaw savior on the mound, is a marvel, Price said.
“It takes a lot for young man to go out with those things,” Price said. “And probably baseball is helping him more than anything else, because it gives him something to keep striving for, and it’s good. Baseball has really helped him a lot, and being around the camaraderie of the family has helped him a lot.”
It helps, too, that Evans believes he’s still under Dad’s watchful, supporting eye, and what he does going forward will always bear some mark of his father.
“I always know he’s out there, just watching,” Evans said. “I’ve always got an angel in the outfield.
“I know when I get in trouble — you know, when it’s a tough inning — I sit back, just look up and just think of him. Just relax, and do it for him.”