Playing for their dads
Tragedies bring Midland teammates together
There was one empty bus seat when Midland (Texas) College left for Grand Junction.
That seat belonged to sophomore reliever Jake Holifield.
Then on Friday, every Midland player scurried to the lobby of their hotel and waited. Jake strolled in, bag in hand, a painful but grateful smile on his face.
The team was complete.
The bond of a team can be powerful. It unites, it encourages, it plays together, works together, wins together, loses together — and it heals together.
Last Tuesday, Jake’s dad passed away.
Adversity can test a team. It can make it stronger, or it can tear it apart.
Midland College has a bond that few teams know.
One of the first people to greet Jake as he arrived in Grand Junction was Jeremie Fagnan.
Fagnan is an RBI machine with a sweet left-handed swing for the Chaparrals. He embraced Jake, maybe harder than his other teammates. Like no other player, Fagnan knows exactly what Jake is going through: the pain, anguish and loss. Jeremie lost his dad, Guy Fagnan, in October.
“I always think about him,” Jeremie says about his dad. “I look up to the sky, and I know he’s watching me.”
Dads watching sons play sports, that’s part of what makes sports special.
Jake is a hometown kid from Midland, Texas, and his dad, Steve Holifield, rarely missed a game. He was a baseball fan, but mostly he was Jake’s fan.
Steve Holifield’s death was sudden, and Jake is still hurting. In a couple of weeks, he will turn 21, and Dad won’t be there to celebrate.
With the Alpine Bank Junior College World Series just a few days away Jake wasn’t sure what to do.
“I talked to my mom, and it’s really what (Dad) would have wanted,” Jake says about making the trip right after the funeral.
Being with his teammates is part of the healing process.
“They are my second family,” he says.
Jeremie Fagnan says the same words when talking about his teammates: “Second family.”
Every Midland player and coach wears a green bracelet with the initials of the two dads and a slogan that has the ring of a cliché but means something very special to this team: “Win the last game.”
“It’s like, win the last game for them,” Jeremie says.
When Jeremie’s dad passed away, it was a long trip home to say that final goodbye. The Calgary, Alberta, native made the long trip back home, but his teammates never let him forget they were thinking about him.
“Every player wrote me a nice message. They were all there for me at my lowest point in my life,” he says.
And they are now in Jake’s corner during his lowest point. With Jeremie at the front.
“I just told him to be with family, especially his mom. I just said, ‘Be with your mom, it’s important to be with your mom.’ That’s what helped me,” Jeremie says.
Helping Jake brought back those painful memories of his dad for Jeremie, but that didn’t matter.
“I teared up a little, but I wanted to be there for him,” he says.
“I really appreciated him spending time with me,” Jake says.
What Jeremie appreciated most is they didn’t treat him differently when he came back. They joked, they teased, they were his friends. And his teammates.
“It was never awkward. That’s what I wanted, but they were always there for me,” he says.
They did the same for Jake.
For the teammates whose dads are still cheering them on, it’s impossible for them to understand the crushing pain Jake and Jeremie had to endure.
“You have your dads who come out and take pictures of you and support you,” Blair Beck says. “I can’t imagine what they were going through. That’s got to the toughest thing in the world.”
He can’t imagine what they went through, but he knows what being a friend and teammate is about.
“That’s why we’re always going to be here for them,” Beck said. “We just rallied around them and showed them our love.”
Coach David Coleman said it’s been a difficult time watching young men go through a painful ordeal. But he also says it’s a special time watching his team grow stronger through the hard times of those two teammates.
“Through adversity we got stronger, the bonds are stronger, the relationships become real,” he says. “This team has a chemistry and that’s special.”
Coleman said supporting those two young men was more important than any victory.
Baseball is just a game. Family and the second family of a team is what is most important.
Jeremie and Jake have a bond, a painful bond of losing their dads.
When they are on the diamond, the game of baseball and those caring teammates help them heal.
Life goes on and so does the bond of team.