As Luke DeBold's life wound down, his clock cruelly programmed by fate to run out before he turned 30, he used to leaf through the obituary section of the newspaper and complain.
His health withering, DeBold remained upbeat while enduring the suffering brought on by complications of a cancerous tumor in his chest and focused his ire on the obits, lamenting that the standard write-ups disappointed him. They didn't include interesting information, he'd say. As he began to accept his own mortality, he hoped he'd be remembered in better fashion.
DeBold died quietly Thursday morning at home in Dyer, having fought to exhaustion for the last time. He was 29.
A few weeks ago, we sat in his living room discussing sports, old times and the curveballs of life, and I'll never forget him telling me he was sorry he didn't attend my birthday party a few weeks before that. Immobilized by the disease, he certainly didn't have to apologize.
However, he did. He was that kind of guy.
DeBold was so humble that if he had to write his own obituary he might not include the fact that he was the Andrean valedictorian in 1998 or that he won two national championships in baseball at the University of Miami (1999 and 2001) or that he was about to enroll in medical school before life threw him its most wicked changeup.
After all, he guffawed when we ran a picture of him on the front page last June after Andrean baseball coach Dave Pishkur emotionally presented him with an honorary state medal following the 59ers' win in the Class 3A state championship. He rarely wore either of his NCAA championship rings even though Hurricanes coach Jim Morris often introduced him to people by saying, "This is Luke DeBold and we wouldn't have won the College World Series without him."
DeBold's 103 appearances at "The U" rank in the top five in program history, and soon he'll be on the ballot for the university's sports hall of fame. In 2001 he led the team with a 1.74 ERA as a reliever and pitched in all four College World Series games.
Always one to play through pain, DeBold pitched despite an elbow injury his senior year, and subsequent Tommy John surgery rendered him without a fastball, dashing his professional aspirations.
In March 2008 DeBold was diagnosed with cancer after doctors found a nonseminomatous germ cell tumor with lung metastases in his chest. The cell had been there at birth, but it didn't become cancerous until later in life. Chemotherapy and surgeries only slowed the awful process.
Throughout his suffering, DeBold had the opportunity to hear the roar of the crowd a few more times.
He was honored at a 10-year reunion for the 1999 champs at Miami. He received the medal from Pishkur at the high school state finals, his reward for a pre-sectional motivational talk and attendance at every postseason game. And on Dec. 18, confined to a wheelchair, the Andrean Athletics Hall of Fame and Andrean Baseball Hall of Fame member was honored at halftime of an Andrean basketball game with a 10-minute standing ovation and the retirement of his No. 19 jersey. It was the first retired jersey in Andrean baseball history.
And on Nov. 21 at St. Maria Goretti Parish Hall in Dyer, thanks to the efforts of several altruistic former teammates and classmates living throughout the country, a benefit titled "A Call to the Bullpen: Providing a Little Relief for Luke DeBold" gave everyone a look at just how many lives DeBold touched.
"I wish we could've frozen that moment in time," his younger sister Dawn said of the benefit. "It was perfect."
Tickets sold out early, and hundreds of us packed the room, which bulged with all the love inside it. Burns-Kish Funeral Home in Munster will do the same beginning at 2 p.m. Monday.
"There was Luke sitting at the table, like Santa Claus, with everyone coming up to him and him taking the time to talk to everyone," Pishkur said. "That kid was just such class it was unbelievable."
In the summer of 2008 a small group of us went to dinner with DeBold. On and off of chemotherapy at the time and sleeping for upward of 20 hours a day, he had promised a few of us that he'd like to get together. All he wanted was a cheeseburger. This guy never asked for much or took himself too seriously.
He was a Dyer Little League legend of Ruthian proportions when I first heard his name in the early 1990s. We met formally preparing to make our confirmation in the spring of 1994. At Andrean we nervously rode together in driver's ed, and Luke always hosted overnight study parties before big exams in physics and calculus when we were upperclassmen.
He never did wrong by anyone. He was the last person in the world who deserved to have the ball taken out of his hand and told, "Not tonight, kid." However, his faith and his family's faith never wavered.
The logo on the Andrean baseball hat is an "A" with a halo on it.
DeBold no longer needs the hat. He has his halo.
This column solely represents the writer's opinion. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Services for Luke DeBold
Viewing is from 2-8 p.m. Monday at Burns-Kish Funeral Home on Calumet Avenue in Munster.
Funeral service begins at 10 a.m. Tuesday at St. Joseph Church in Dyer.