Friday, June 3, 2016

In Memory of a Rising Star, Donny Everett

Donny Everett, d1baseball.com
Yesterday, while watching the local Golden State Warriors take on the Cavaliers in the NBA Finals with my parents, my mom declared, "American life would be so boring without sports." This, especially to me, rings so true. I never watch basketball, drawn in only because the Warriors are a local team, and with all the media hype and coverage, it was supposed to be an event not to miss because sports play such a major role in American culture. Baseball is the biggest part of my life, and for many others like me around the nation as well. We marvel at the plays made by Mike Trout, the moonshots hit by Giancarlo Stanton, and the 100 mph bullets fired by Aroldis Chapman. We are astonished by the phenoms like Bryce Harper, and root for the underdog story that is Jose Altuve. Our days brighten when our favorite teams win, our hearts crushed when Billy Beane inexplicably brings Daric Barton back for yet another season. These players we admire, despise, and track everyday are almost superheroes, yet the letters that spell out C-l-a-y-t-o-n K-e-r-s-h-a-w might not mean much more to us than the zeroes that follow his name in the box score. But in reality, every single one of these players is a living, breathing, human being, their lives spontaneous and prone to change at any given moment. We are reminded of this by what happened to Donny Everett, the freshman pitcher at Vanderbilt University on Thursday, June 2nd 2016.

Just a few days ago, while compiling draft data for the upcoming community mock draft on minorleagueball.com, I came across several pitchers who were considered tough signs because of their strong commitments to college, and I dropped their names several spots lower on my Excel spreadsheet. I was immediately reminded of two Vandy commits from the last draft, Everett and fellow righty Chandler Day, and checked up on their stats for this season. Looking at Everett's numbers, I remember thinking how it justified him turning down the $2.5 million dollar signing bonus to go to Vanderbilt. I then watched some film of him firing 98 mph fastballs and blowing them by helpless high school hitters. Never once did it cross my mind how he felt passing up the lucrative bonus, the thoughts, the feelings, the human emotions behind him. All I could see was a 6'2'' 230 lbs hulk who threw in the upper 90's, not the 19-year-old college freshman who enjoyed Fast and Furious movies. This morning while checking USA Today, I clicked on the headline that read "College pitcher drowns day before tournament." When I saw that Donny Everett had passed away in a fishing accident, a heart-sinking feeling overcame me. As a baseball fan, this wasn't the first time I read in the news a player I recognized passed away. The first one I remember was Greg Halman, then Oscar Taveras, followed by Mariners prospect Victor Sanchez. But as a high school baseball player, it is hard for me to relate to these big named superstars of Taveras' caliber in pro ball. Everett was a high school senior just last year, and it is not difficult for me to imagine him going from class to class, hitting the weight room, Snapchatting friends, and doing homework just like normal teenagers all around me. If I lived in Tennessee, I easily could have been one of the kids that flailed away at his triple digit heat. Last year, at around this time of the year, Donny Everett to me was just a few letters on the draft screen of MLB.com, categorized under "Best Available" until the Brewers snatched him in the 29th round. Today, he reminds me that all these idols we admire, analyze, and sometimes complain about, are all human, lives volatile and unpredictable. 

The Vanderbilt Commodores take on Xavier tonight in the NCAA regionals en route to perhaps another berth in Omaha. They will send their ace, Jordan Sheffield to the hill, and with the Draft coming up next Thursday, scouts will be looking to analyze Sheffield the ballplayer. A month ago when I wrote my mock draft, I mentioned his hard fastball and worrisome mechanics, as well as how his lengthy injury history might affect his draft stock. But today it crosses my mind: how might his long list of injuries affect, not his draft position, but him as a person? What kind of difficulties did he have to go through to pitch on the big playoff stage tonight? Tonight, I will watch Vanderbilt, my dream school, take the field with a heavy heart, no doubt playing for Donny Everett. Before today, I would be looking for the talent on the field, but today's game will feature Vanderbilt's ability to overcome mental adversity, to come together as a team and play for their lost teammate. Accomplished and recently retired college baseball coach Augie Garrido once said that baseball is a great sport because of its ups and downs and how it simulates life's highs and lows. But baseball is more than just a sport, more than just a game, and today in Vanderbilt's case, more than just a simulation of life. The baseball team, especially in college where they room and travel together, becomes more than just a team, it is a family, and tonight they will play without a member of their family. In baseball, as well as life, you never know if you will be given another opportunity. On May 27, Donny Everett threw a scoreless 9th inning with two strikeouts to finish off a 7-0 victory against Missouri. He had no way of knowing that was going to be the last game of his life.

As fans, we have been robbed of the experience of watching Everett pitch in the NCAA playoffs, watching him blow away hitters with the big fastball, watching our favorite team draft him and develop him into a top of the rotation pitcher in the big leagues. But it seems so shallow and pales in comparison to more importantly, a 19 year old kid losing the opportunity to fulfill his dreams and ambitions, and his families, both blood-related and baseball, losing a loved one. His passing reminds all of us to live in the moment and enjoy every day, and for the baseball players, to play hard and give everything you got on every play because we never know what tomorrow will bring. As for being a fan of the game, the best we can do is root for Vanderbilt in this tournament, cheer them on and support them, because that's what being a sports fan is all about. 

Donny Everett- Rest in peace.

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