DADE CITY — His wife wasn't sure how long she would be able to stay Friday, if she could make it there at all. This is the first game they've been to without him. It's all so new and raw.
The night before the service to honor her husband, Luis Salas, to whom she had been married 21 years and with whom she had three children, Diana Salas wept and felt sick. Her stomach hurt. It comes like this in waves, the grief.
She met him in 1989. Her parents knew his parents. His parents had been injured in a car accident. Her parents were going to visit. When they pulled up, Luis came outside to greet them.
Diana lost her breath.
"That's the man I'm going to marry," she told herself. It was the oddest thing, this knowing, this certainty, within seconds. He was for her and she was for him. They were married the next year. Soon, they had a daughter, Sarah. Then two boys, Luis and Alex.
Diana's husband loved sports, especially baseball and softball. He started coaching and umpiring in Little League when the kids were young and stayed with it after they got older. He umpired high school baseball and softball. It takes confidence to be able to make those tough calls and Luis had it. He also had a calm personality. He loved being a mentor to the kids. Diana remarked at his ability to talk with teenagers and get their respect. Luis was gone from home often, between working as a control operator at CF Industries and umpiring, which he did because he enjoyed it but also because the high school games provided additional income for his family, whom he adored. Anyone who knew him heard him gush about his children.
Sometimes Diana would ask him to stay home and not umpire.
"I've got to go," he'd say. People were counting on him. He was always covering for someone; if an umpire was sick, if an umpire needed to cancel for other plans. Luis was reliable and steadfast. He was a large man with a generous spirit. He gave turkeys to families in need on Thanksgiving and Christmas; not through a charity, just families he knew who needed some help.
He wasn't a solitary person. His door was always open. He loved grilling — people clamored for his ribs and smoked chicken — and when people saw the smoke flowing from his grill when they drove past his house on State Road 52 in Dade City, they would turn around and pull in the driveway. Luis never turned anyone away. He always made more than enough.
He had his 44th birthday March 15. Diana, 45, said he had a physical and the doctor said he was fine. He passed all his tests.
If he hadn't been feeling well, he never said. He was working the night shift June 23 when he collapsed. Luis had a massive heart attack. Paramedics got his pulse back, but he went 17 minutes without oxygen. For the first day in the hospital, Diana had hope that her husband could recover. All of his friends who visited him were shocked not by the tubes and machines, but that Luis was still. They had rarely ever seen him sit down.
Each day in the hospital, the news was worse until eventually, Diana learned there was no brain activity. Luis passed away in hospice July 3. Diana visits his grave often. She tells him not to worry about them, that she and the children will be okay, they will get through this, somehow.
"Rest," she tells him.
She is not angry he was taken from her. She believes if God wanted Luis, that is His will, and she can't contest it. She misses her husband. She feels numb.
The umpire community wanted to do something to show the family how much he meant to them. So on Friday afternoon, during the opening ceremonies of the Senior Baseball State Tournament at John S. Burks Park in Dade City, they had the family come onto the field and gave Diana and Sarah flowers. Luis' sons threw and caught the first pitch.
When Diana stepped off the field, a few umpires gave her hugs, and all asked if she was okay. "I'm fine," she kept saying, as she pressed a tissue to her face. Her body trembled. She still felt sick.
"I'm alright," she said.
Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this story. Erin Sullivan can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 869-6229.