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INNER STRENGTH AFTER TRAGEDY

Published by the Boston Globe    Date 7/12/2001, Page E1, Section Sports.
Author: BOB RYAN

Casey Grant says his boy Brendan was the "perfect son." Allowing for the requisite amount of parental prejudice, that statement still sounds dubious.

Or perhaps not.

"Brendan was a joy," maintains Dan Kelleher, coach of the Belmont Senior Babe Ruth team. "I kind of took him for granted. I never had to call his house in three years."

"If I had 15 more like him," adds Jim O'Shaughnessy, a Belmont baseball pillar who first encountered Grant as a 9-year-old Little Leaguer, "coaching would be an easy job."

"He was just a terrific kid," says Kelleher. "It's going to take me a long time to get over this."

On June 27, Brendan Grant, age 18, died in a horrifying on-field accident. In the sixth inning of a game against Arlington, an opposing batter lofted a fly ball between Grant in left and Charlie Synott in center. Both young men went hard after the ball. There being no video or photographic evidence, no one is exactly sure what happened, other than to say that the two collided and somehow or another Synott's knee struck Grant above the shoulders, perhaps crushing his windpipe. He died a short time later at Mt. Auburn Hospital.

"As a coach," says Kelleher, "I've seen a lot of collisions. This ball could not have been more equidistant between the two kids. If the ball were a shade more one way or the other, we wouldn't be having this conversation."

The accidental death of any young person would resonate in any community, but Brendan Grant's death has struck a particularly responsive chord in Belmont, in part because he truly was an exemplary young man and in part because Casey Grant truly is an exemplary adult.

In the immediate hours after this tragedy, no one in Belmont seemed to know what course to follow; specifically, should the season continue? The answer is yes, and the reason is Casey Grant.

"Baseball has always been a big part of our lives," explains Grant. "We have lost one wonderful boy, and we don't want to lose any more. I feel I am speaking for Brendan when I say that the best way to honor my son is to play."

Even as everyone concerned was wondering just how the boy's father would possibly cope with his son's death, Casey Grant was actively trying to help others begin the healing process. The first thing he did was assure a shaken Synott he bore absolutely no culpability in his son's death. "This was nobody's fault," he says. "As painful as it was, and I don't have all the answers, it was something I saw with my own eyes and it was just an amazing accident. It was no one's fault."

Grant likewise addressed the team as a whole, in so doing pretty much rendering redundant the services of a counselor. And when the entire Arlington team came to the wake, Casey Grant did not settle for a perfunctory handshake. He addressed each boy personally, thanking him for coming and assuring him that there had to be a reason for what happened to his beloved son.

Anyone subscribing to the theory that when your number's up, your number's up, might well seize upon what happened at the Belmont High field on the night of June 27 as Exhibit A. Brendan Grant was Kelleher's regular third baseman. But on this night he had come to Kelleher and asked if he could play left field because his arm was "a little sore." Nor was Charlie Synott Kelleher's regular center fielder. Synott is a first baseman by trade, but on this particular occasion the center fielder was playing hockey and coach Kelleher had to make a lineup adjustment.

And then there's the Harry Agganis angle.

"When we first moved here in '92," explains Casey Grant, "my son's bedroom was practically overlooking Sancta Maria Hospital, which is where Harry Agganis died." How many contemporary 18-year-olds are conversant with the story of the legendary Harry Agganis? Brendan Grant was.

Harry Agganis died June 27, 1955.

"Never could I have imagined anything like this," says Grant. "A one-in-a-billion accident killing my son. We're asking ourselves, `What's the big plan?' The fact is my wife and I were there. People who had known Brendan since he was 9 or 10 were there. All the details seem somehow scripted."

The impact in Belmont of Brendan's death was immediate. Casey Grant loved his son, of course, and he assumed that his son was well-liked, but he had no idea just how popular Brendan was. For not only was he the "perfect son," he was awfully close to being the perfect friend and perfect teammate. Adults and young people alike made their feelings known. "I could see this escalating very quickly," says Grant.

"Escalation" is hardly the word. There have been so many phone calls, letters, and proposals forwarded to honor Brendan that it is pretty much a given some sort of screening committee has to be formed. Just responding to all the well-wishers will be a full-time job for both Casey and Cathy Grant, who must also look out for the welfare of Brendan's younger sisters, 15-year-old Lyndsey and 11-year-old Shannon.

The thing is, Casey Grant has been spending more time cheering everyone else up than the other way around.

"I don't know how Casey has done it," marvels O'Shaughnessy, who, along with Casey Grant and Kelleher, was the first to reach the stricken Brendan after the collision. "The rest of us would be basket cases. We are only able to pick up the pieces because of the strength of Casey Grant. He is an extraordinary person."

A scholarship fund has already been established in Brendan's name. The next goal is to have the Belmont Hill baseball field, currently unnamed, become the Brendan Grant Field. Nor do the principals wish to stop there. They feel that if you're going to bestow the appropriate honor on a young man who loved baseball as Brendan did, the field should be upgraded.

"If the town isn't willing to do this," says O'Shaughnessy, "then I have a problem with the town."

It is impossible to exaggerate how much Brendan Grant loved baseball. "I've often said I wanted to be there for him because Brendan needed baseball," submits Kelleher. "He wrestled and he played football, but baseball was his true sport."

Baseball bonded father and son. That very afternoon Casey and Brendan had spent an hour at batting cages in Waltham because Brendan wasn't happy with his stroke. His hands were so blistered his dad had to make sure he got a decent pair of batting gloves before that fateful game.

The team is back playing now. That is what Casey wants because he knows what Brendan would want. As the league secretary, and as Brendan's dad, Casey will be attending the games.

But sooner or later Casey, Cathy, and the girls must deal with their private grief. In fact, they already are.

"When we're home, we're washing the floor with tears," Casey says.

But in Belmont, who'd know? The Casey Grant they see is the strongest man in town.

Donations to the Brendan Grant Foundation can be sent to:
     P. O. Box 184    Belmont, MA 02478-0184

This article is used with the permission of the Globe Newspaper Company for the sole purpose of this website, and may not be republished without their permission.