Friday was already a sad day for me. I’ll get to why in a bit, but the day ended when I learned of the passing of Shannon Forde.
As I’m sure many of you know by now, Shannon was a member of the New York Mets’ media relations department – and she was one of the great people in the game. Baseball is a unique industry, and you get to meet a lot of wonderful humans who don’t care about the long hours … or the nights … or the weekends. They do it for the love of the game.
And Shannon loved the game and the people who were part of the game. She had a warm personality and a great laugh, and she was particularly helpful to media relations staffers from visiting teams. Beyond being helpful and making sure whatever you needed was waiting for you, she always made you smile.
I lost my Cubs job in August 2012. Shannon was diagnosed with cancer in August 2012. I have nothing to complain about.
Shannon was a behind-the-scenes/under-the-radar type, but she was far from it. And the past few days have proven it. As sad as I am about her passing, it’s awesome to read the tributes written about her. She was obviously beloved by those who worked with her.
Shannon was just 44 years old. She left behind a husband and two young children. I shed a few tears when I learned the news late Friday night. I hope she knew how much she was loved.
In one of the worst coincidence-days ever, I was driving to a meeting Friday morning in Evanston – and I was heading down a familiar route, getting off the Edens Expressway at Dempster and heading east toward the lake.
And as I drove through Skokie and continued toward the downtown Evanston area, memories of Kevin Foster popped into my head. I drive that road all the time, but I hadn’t thought of Kevin in quite some time.
Kevin pitched for the Cubs from 1994-1998. He was a nice guy, a reflective type who went to Evanston High School and attended Cubs games as a youngster.
But that’s not why I was thinking of him. During his time with the Cubs, I lived in Evanston – just a couple miles from the house he grew up in. And despite being a big league player, he still lived at home. And yours truly, the little media relations staffer, got to drive him home after the road trips I went on. He’d always ask that day before, “You going with us? Dropping me off at home, right?!”
I’m guessing I drove him home 8-to-10 times. He would talk about taking the train to Wrigley Field as a kid, just like I did. He would talk about his family, how close he was with them, about how they kept him grounded, about why he didn’t see a reason to move out. He wondered how often he’d get home cooking if he moved out.
And he often talked about looking forward to the days after baseball. There were so many things he wanted to do that the money he was making might allow him to do. There were places he wanted to travel to. The world was in front of him.
Arm injuries derailed his career, and his major league career ended for good in 2001. In October 2008, just six months after being diagnosed with renal cell carcinoma, he was gone – at just 39 years old … leaving behind four sons.
Through my time in baseball, I was fortunate to come across so many wonderful human beings. Sadly, too many have been taken from us far too soon.
It’s not right that Kevin Foster wasn’t around to see his children grow up.
But if I can twist it and put a happy spin on it, I’d rather do it that way – in a “Rock and Roll Heaven” fashion, the song popularized by The Righteous Brothers.
Wherever Kevin might be right now, I envision Frank Castillo also being there, quietly watching in a corner, a little bit of a smirk on his face, soaking everything in. Quietly watching … very quietly watching, but with assassin’s blood. He drowned while swimming in 2013 – at the age of 44.
I see Jeremi Gonzalez getting ready to pull a practical joke on some unsuspecting teammate – or pulling the “No habla ingles” on someone when he fully understood everything. And I mean everything. He had his own agent fooled for years. He was 33 when he was struck by lightning in 2008.
I see Jessie Hollins, who overcame a rough upbringing, finally having some peace. He drowned at the age of 39 in 2009.
There’s Rod Beck, beer can in hand, just enjoying the moment. He died in 2007 at age 38. The cause of death was drug related.
Dave Smith, cigarette in hand, quietly observing everything in front of him before dropping a well-timed one-line quip. He died of a heart attack (in 2008) at 53.
I see the coaches who lived long and exciting lives and had wonderful years with their grandchildren – but I also see coaches who too died way too young – like Larry Cox (who died at the age of 42 after suffering a heart attack) and Oscar Acosta (killed in a car accident at age 49).
Two of my old Cubs colleagues are there in the background, blending in. That’s what behind-the-scenes people do. Kathy Tomasetti with her big booming laugh, smiling ear-to-ear because I’m talking about her. Mike Hill, rolling his eyes because I’m talking about him. I expect that he’ll shoot me one of those “you can’t pass that around at work” e-mails.
I came across a lot of people in baseball, and that’s what made that world so special. Baseball players are real people, too. These are some of the people I wish you would have had the chance to know. They all need to be remembered.