It took Seminole High School baseball coach Greg Olsen a few days to come up with the words, and when they came, he wrote them down. Dear Nate, ¶ We go through life and sometimes don't say what we feel or how we feel and sometimes it's too late. From the time we've been at Seminole we can honestly say that we've never coached someone quite like you. ¶ Nate Richardson wasn't just a freshman. He was a 5-foot, 4-inch freshman. Yet he made the Warhawks baseball team. He practiced with reckless abandon, prodded his older teammates to dig deeper, was a bright light.
A few weeks ago, he tore his ACL sliding into third base at practice, ending his season.
But the next day, he showed up at practice on crutches.
The day after that, he was swinging a bat.
This is the memory Tim Lamoureux shares, because this is the one that makes him smile.
"He had more heart than anybody I've ever known,'' the junior pitcher said.
• • •
Friday night in Seminole, four students from Seminole and Largo high schools were killed in a horrific car accident.
Richardson was one of them.
On a sad but brilliant Wednesday afternoon, Seminole remembered No. 35.
His number and initials were written on T-shirts. Sewed into green wristbands. Painted on signs just beyond the rightfield fence.
His No. 35 was ironed on the sleeves of every Seminole player, right about in the same spot the Warhawks were wearing their emotions.
It was stitched to their chests, right above some heavy hearts.
It was scrawled in white-out and ink and markers on just about every baseball hat in the joint.
And at roughly 4:15 p.m., No. 35 sprinted out to centerfield for the start of a key district game against Osceola.
On the back of Joe Lamoureux.
"His parents asked me to wear his uniform one last time,'' said Joe, a senior pitcher and centerfielder. "It was an honor.''
Nate Richardson could have chosen Alex Rodriguez or Albert Pujols or David Wright as his favorite baseball player.
But he decided when he was only 8 years old that his favorite player in the whole wide world was Joe Lamoureux.
• • •
The energy and passion you brought to the table on a daily basis is something coaches dream about.
Throughout the year we talked about taking nothing for granted and how baseball could be here one day and gone the next, and that players are remembered by their last game or practice. Nate, if any player has ever embodied that statement it was you.
Tim Lamoureux threw his heart out Wednesday.
"I wanted to pitch the game of my life for Nate,'' he said.
There was something extra on every pitch. After six innings, he hadn't given up a run, but ran out of blood, sweat and tears as Osceola won the game that no one really wanted to play.
It was an important, huge but bittersweet win for the Warriors and starter Taylor Layner, who was masterful.
"The first inning was kind of like, we shouldn't even be out here playing this game,'' said Osceola's star sophomore.
But that was the point.
The Warhawks needed to play this game.
They needed to say their good-byes here, between these white lines, on this field.
For Bob Richardson, Nate's father. For Diane, his mother. For Brad, his brother.
They will not heal this season. This year. For some, this lifetime.
But it was a good place to start trying.
• • •
Boca Ciega's Tyler Griffith was shaken by the bad news Friday. He was friends with Keith MacCollom, one of those who died in the crash, and knew Richardson.
He was devastated by the news. He told Tim Lamoureux that he was going to strike out 10 batters for Nate on Monday night.
He cut pictures of Nate and Keith out of the newspaper and taped them under the bill of his baseball cap.
And he struck out 18.
The first home run of his high school career cleared the centerfield fence by 50 feet.
"It felt kind of weird,'' he said, and as he was running to first base thought, "this can't just be a coincidence, can it?''
Tim and Joe would like to think it wasn't. So would all the Warhawks.
Wednesday, they got the hardest game out of the way. They will move forward. It will get easier.
They will try to leave the sadness behind.
But they will take that No. 35 with them.
From challenging seniors to work harder, to the hurt in your eyes after a loss, you took nothing for granted and played every day like it was your last. If we are fortunate enough to coach for a while longer we hope and pray that one day we will come across someone like you. Your heart and soul will forever be a part of the program.
John C. Cotey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.