Brendan Grant Died After A Collision In A Baseball Game.
But Don't Forget Baseball Was His Life.
RICHER FOR KNOWING A BELMONT WINNER
Published by The Hartford Courant Date
7/15/2001, Page E1,
Author: PAUL DOYLE, Courant Staff Writer
BELMONT. Mass. - Engulfed in a tragedy, Casey Grant did what came so easily.
He talked with pride about his son Brendan. He expressed his love and admiration, gushing about the traits that made Brendan special.
To Grant, it was a natural reaction to an unexplainable event. He witnessed the death of his 18-year-old son on the baseball field and he was grieving the only way he knew - by celebrating his son's life.
Two and a half weeks later, Grant hasn't stopped paying tribute. Now, though, he is simply one voice among a chorus that is praising a college sophomore-to-be whose loss has shaken two communities.
"I'm just so honored, "Grant said. "Nobody had to tell me how good he was as a person. But to hear these things . . . I'm so, so proud of him.
On June 27, Grant saw his only son die while doing something he loved more than anything. Brendan Grant collided with a teammate in the sixth inning of a Senior Babe Ruth League game. Within 30 minutes, he died at a local hospital.
If Casey Grant had not seen it himself, he never would have believed his son could die in such a manner. He knows of no other incident in which a player has died from injuries sustained in a baseball collision and he has yet to reconcile the events of that night.
But while he is trying to make sense of his son's death, Grant has witnessed an outpouring of admiration from everyone touched by Brendan. He is hearing from teachers and classmates, teammates and coaches, all saying the same thing. The tributes have come from Belmont, where the family has lived for nine years, to Springfield, where Brendan recently completed his freshman
year at American International College.
The descriptions are always the same: polite, unassuming, hard-working.
Nothing that Casey Grant didn't already know.
"He was my hero," Grant said.
Team Plays On, As He Would Want
In Belmont, seven miles northwest of Boston, the healing is tangible. A week ago tonight, the Babe Ruth team played its first game since Brendan's death. Two days later, the team returned to the field where the accident occurred. On Wednesday, two weeks after the accident, the team defeated Watertown.
At that game, there was nothing to distinguish the players from any other group of teenage boys in any other town. They joked and mimicked each other, alternating their focus among the game and their parents and their friends.
That's just the way the people of Belmont want things.
These boys have to move on . . . without forgetting Brendan," said Dan Kelleher, coach of the Babe Ruth team. "They witnessed something they should not have seen at their age. They'll never forget it, I'm sure. But it's important they get back to playing."
That was the message from Casey Grant: The best way to honor Brendan and keep his spirit alive was to play baseball. There was a thought to canceling games at various levels, but just days after the collision, the Belmont Little League was playing a game. Casey also urged Kelleher to get his team back on the field and he addressed the players at the first practice.
Just play, he said, because that's the way Brendan would want it.
"It's no exaggeration to say that Brendan's life revolved around baseball," Grant said. "Baseball was everything to us."
That's why many have said Brendan's life ended in an appropriate place - on the field.
Grant was playing left field against a team from Arlington. Though usually a third baseman, Grant began playing outfield at AIC and asked to play left that night because of a sore arm.
In the sixth inning, Grant and center fielder Charlie Synnott converged on a fly ball in the gap. They collided, and Synnott's knee apparently hit Grant in the neck. While a Belmont infielder retrieved the ball, it was obvious Grant was injured.
Players panicked as Grant struggled to breathe. Kelleher called 911 and Grant lay in the outfield, surrounded by his father and family friend Jim O'Shaughnessy.
"I just remember the look in Brendan's eyes," said O'Shaughnessy, vice president of the Belmont
Baseball Association. "It was like he couldn't understand what was happening."
Paramedics worked on Grant in the outfield and eventually deemed him stable before taking him to a nearby hospital in Cambridge. The game was called and there was clearly a sense of distress at the field - Synnott, a close friend of Grant's, was distraught and apologized to Kelleher. Casey assured Synnott he was not at fault.
Still, no one thought Grant's life was in danger. When Kelleher went to Mount Auburn Hospital, he was shocked when Casey Grant approached him with the news of Brendan's death. The cause of death was a fractured larynx.
"I've seen so many collisions on the field," Kelleher said. "This seemed like just another collision. How do you explain it?"
Casey Grant can't explain it, but he wonders if the collision wasn't an act off fate. Too many things fell into place. Grant says it was almost as if the night were scripted.
From his own perspective, he was thankful to be at the game. Grant was expecting to miss it because of a business trip, but he returned early and threw batting practice to his son in the batting cage on the afternoon of the game.
Then there is the position switch. Not only did Grant switch to left, but Synnott was shifted from first base to center because the regular center fielder missed the game.
There's also the date - June 27. That's exactly 46 years after Red Sox baseman Harry Agganis died at a Cambridge hospital that Brendan could virtually see from his bedroom window when the Grants moved to Belmont in 1992. Grant became interested in the life of Agganis, a legendary amateur athlete from Lynn, Mass who died at 26 of a pulmonary embolism.
Finally, there was the setting. A baseball field, with so many people watching who knew Brendan from age 9 or 10.
And of course, the presence of his parents, Casey and Cathy.
"And our priest, who was supposed to be away, happened to be around," Casey Grant said. "So it just went on and on and on. We ended saying there's something bigger that none of us really understand here . . . Really, if didn't see it with my own eyes, 1 would never have believed it. A collision? And Brendan outweighed [Synnott] by maybe 50 pounds.
"I don't understand any of this, but 1 guess there was something more at work. I guess I find some strength in that as well."
For Grant, the circumstances provided a means to understand the death. There was no one to blame and no one to be angry at, so Grant's energy was focused on the spirit of Brendan. And as he talked about his son, he opened the door for others to pay tribute.
"Honestly, I couldn't talk about this for the first few days," O'Shaughnessy said. "But seeing the strength that Casey had, that made it easier. I don't know how he's doing it. I couldn't handle something like this."
As more people spoke of Brendan, it became clear that Grant was not simply a father with natural bias.
"This was a special, special boy," said Chuck Lelas, Brendan's coach at AIC. "He was doing everything right. He was playing the game he loved. He worked hard. He was respectful. He's the kind of kid every coach wants. How do we make sense out of something like this?"
While Belmont is moving forward, the community at AIC won't start grieving until students return for classes. Many of Grant's teammates at AIC attended the wake and funeral, and some players - especially those from Grant's freshman class - are still coping with the death.
The school will have a memorial service in September and the team will honor Grant, perhaps by wearing his number on their uniform sleeve. Grant played third base and outfield at AIC and hit over .300. Grant's Babe Ruth team is wearing his No. 1 for the remainder of its season. Casey Grant will undoubtedly address the AIC team.
On Thursday night, Arlington came back to town to play Belmont for the first time since Brendan's death. Casey Grant spoke to the team because the healing must go on in Arlington, too. And later at AIC.
"I'm not sure how we'll deal with it," AIC senior Brian Maloney said. "I'm sure we'll dedicate our season to him. But not being together this summer, it's hard. We haven't been able to really talk about it a lot."
Maloney said the players who attended the service in Belmont had an opportunity to collectively grieve the night of the funeral. Eating dinner together, they talked about Brendan as a player and person, swapping stories.
"Just sort of talking about things he said and whatnot," Maloney said. "You could call them Brendanisms. He was a funny kid. A really good kid."
The tributes in Belmont have just begun. Some Babe Ruth players have "BG" on their caps. A scholarship fund in Grant's name has been set up at Belmont High and there is a movement to name the high school field after Brendan.
Meanwhile, calls have come from all over the world. A contribution to the scholarship fund came
from Colombia. The story was told by CNN and wire service accounts have been published all over the country.
Casey Grant says he is overwhelmed by the response and understands why his son's death has touched so many.
"We take things for granted, 1 think," Grant said." Anyone who is a parent can relate to this."
At home, Grant and his family are privately mourning. Casey and Cathy have two daughters -
Lyndsey, 15, and Shannon, 11.
"With all the attention, it's helped," Grant said. "But in the quieter moments, there's a lot of grieving. We're trying to rebuild, refunction as we can. We dearly miss him."
Kelleher, a prominent figure in Belmont athletics, insists the town will never forget Brendan. He has raised five boys, all athletes. One son was the co-captain of the Boston University hockey team with Chris Drury, another is a goalie at Boston College and a third is playing hockey at UMass - Boston after attending Gunnery School in Washington, Conn.
So for the Kelleher family, sports is a common thread.
"I came home from the hospital that night and told my boys, 'Guys, 1 just have to get a hug from each of you,' " Kelleher said. "I just have to do that. Brendan's dad is never going to get to do this. I need this."
Donations to the Brendan Grant Foundation can be sent to:
P. O. Box 184 Belmont, MA 02478-0184
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