Beasley healing after loss of dad
Bucs coach has endured family tragedies this summer
They had just said "Amen," the father who had always made sure each of his eight kids made it to church on Sundays, and the son who now strives to ensure that the principles he took from those early-morning services guide him.
It was father, James Otho Beasley, and it was son, Tony Beasley. It was Sunday, July 26.
Though the family had endured a bit of a scare earlier in the week when James, 69, had been admitted to the hospital with a stomach infection, by this point there was a sense of prevailing peace. The doctors had assuaged the family's fears by insisting that the infection was nothing serious, and by no means potentially fatal. James would simply have his gall bladder removed in a common procedure a few weeks later.
Still, father and son prayed as James rested in his Bowling Green, Va., bedroom on that Sunday night.
Tony had left his duties as the Pirates' third-base coach six days earlier with the blessing of the organization. But with his father's health improving, he had plans to rejoin the team in San Francisco the next morning. He'd then come back to be by his father's side during the surgery.
"Everything was good," Beasley said, recalling that prayer, that father-son moment.
Beasley went to leave the bedroom, paused, and turned back to look at his father one last time. What he saw startled him.
"He had a look on his face and was just staring at me," Beasley explained. "It was the weirdest stare I had ever seen. I didn't think much of it, but I remembered that look.
"I told my son later that night: 'Papa looked at me like he's never going to see me again.'"
On Monday morning, Beasley boarded a flight from Virginia to California, having no idea how prophetic those words would turn out to be.
Pirates manager John Russell had the burden of delivering the news. He had received word while Beasley was still on the cross-country flight that James had died suddenly and unexpectedly of a heart attack. Russell and Pirates travel secretary Greg Johnson wanted to meet Beasley at the airport, but were too far away to make it in time. Instead, Russell sent Beasley a text message: Call me.
Beasley did, immediately after he landed. It was then that he learned the devastating news.
"I could tell when he called me that he didn't know what had happened," Russell said. "I asked him if he had called home and he said, 'No.' It was probably one of the hardest phone calls I've ever had to make. But if someone had to tell him and it wasn't going to be his family, I'm glad it could be me."
Because Beasley couldn't get a flight back to the East Coast until later that evening, he went ahead to AT&T Park, where he knew support would be waiting.
"To be with the coaches, to be with the team, that was probably the best thing that happened to me at the time," Beasley said. "I was able to cry and to have people to talk to and shoulders to lean on. They were just so supportive. They gave me strength that I didn't know I had."
Now on the opposite side of the country from his grieving family, Beasley had plenty of time to reflect and attempt to find strength. He felt blessed to have left nothing unsaid with his father and to have no regrets.
He felt relieved that he had left the Pirates a week earlier to go be with his father. Though his dad -- a self-described workaholic whose initials were fittingly J.O.B. -- would never have asked his son to miss a day of work for him, something had prodded Beasley to go anyway.
And he saw a greater hand in the circumstances of the previous week.
"I think," Beasley began, "that was God lining it up to allow us some time to be together."
Both general manager Neal Huntington and Russell both told Beasley to go be with his family and to take as much time as he needed. To this day, Beasley remains visibly grateful for that. He also hasn't forgotten the two strangers he encountered -- one at the airport and another sitting next to him on the plane ride back -- who had helped him begin the healing process.
He talked. They both listened. He made his way home.
Baseball and blood
For the next week, James Beasley was remembered as a successful logger and entrepreneur, husband and father, a strong, yet gentle, man -- and as a baseball player.
"In your lifetime, you don't get to meet many people like him," said Jared Beasley, the second of James' children and Tony's older brother. "He was one of a kind."
James had quit school in the eighth grade because, as the oldest son in a large family, his family needed the weekly salary of 25 cents that he could make as a logger. Logging was apparently in his blood, as James eventually went on to run his own logging business, one that he continued to work at until he died.
If you lived under James' roof, going to church services weren't an option. And though his children's education level later passed his, he had every one of them beat when it came to common sense.
Then there was his first love: baseball.
"Baseball, it just ran in the family," laughed Dorothy Chestnut, James' older sister. "He just loved sports."
She was not exaggerating.
"It's been in the family from generation to generation, as far back as I can remember," was how James described baseball and the Beasley connection to a Free-Lance Star (Va.) newspaper reporter back in 1988. "Everybody in the family was a baseball player."
That included James. He played sandlot ball for years, mostly as a catcher, though the opportunity to try and make it to the Majors was never opened to him. His younger brother, Lewis, went on to play 11 seasons of professional baseball, including a brief 25-game stint with the Texas Rangers.
So when Tony went on to work as a coach and manager, James, who had taught his sons the game, was especially proud.
"As a little boy, I grew up watching him," Tony said. "He pushed me to play and was very supportive of me and what I wanted to do with baseball. That's why [the family] called me the favorite child -- because I excelled in baseball and ended up having a career in baseball. He was really proud of where I am today."
It was this legacy that the Beasley family gathered to celebrate on Friday, July 31, when they assembled at James' home and prepared to process to the Jerusalem Baptist Church for the funeral service. Cousins, siblings, aunts, uncles were there, and many sat in chairs on the outside lawn to share memories of James. Among them was Tony Beasley's 62-year-old aunt, Dorothy Jeter-Smith.
It took just seconds, but those who were there still have to pause before recounting what followed.
Jeter-Smith bent over. Her face turned pale. She stopped breathing.
She, four days after James, had also suffered a heart attack. Family members administered CPR, and her immediate family went with her as she was rushed to the hospital. Left with only minutes to comprehend what had just happened, the rest of the family went ahead to James' funeral.
"We missed the funeral and that hurt because we couldn't be there for them," Jeter-Smith's daughter, Sonya Chatman said. "It hurt so much."
Jeter-Smith never made it home, passing away that day.
|"We feel that we are a part of the Pirates now. We've adopted that team as our own because it has a heart. The Pirates have a heart."|
|-- Tony Beasley's brother, Jared|
"We never in our wildest dreams could have imagined that the events would take place that did," Jared added. "Nothing in this world could have prepared us for that. When you're looking at a person and they're fine, and the next minute their lying lifeless on their back, it's like a dream. But it wasn't."
Before his aunt's sudden passing, Tony had planned to return to his coaching duties in Pittsburgh four days after his father's funeral. Now he had no choice but to stay. Another funeral had to be planned. Another mourning process had begun. More strength needed to be drawn.
"I wanted to come back, but my family kept telling me, 'You can't go back. You have to stay. We need you here,'" recalled Tony.
The Pirates, again, told him stay as long as he needed, and the outpouring that followed from the organization was overwhelming. UPS and FedEx made daily stops at Tony's home, dropping off flowers and gifts from current and former players and front office members. Russell called. President Frank Coonelly sent cards.
To this day, the entire family remains touched by the organization's gestures.
"It speaks highly of the organization itself, that they have interest in their staff and players," Jared said. "We feel that we are a part of the Pirates now. We've adopted that team as our own because it has a heart. The Pirates have a heart."
Tony knew that eventually he had to get back to work. He craved normalcy. He desired any sort of distraction he could find that would take him away from having to deal with the financial advisors, estate papers and lawyers.
He needed baseball.
He took his spot in the third-base coaching box on Sunday, Aug. 9, which was fitting in so many ways. Not only was it two weeks from the day he last saw his father, but it was the day of the week that he and his father had always shared together.
As a child, it was the day they went to church. In recent years, it was their day to talk on the phone. For Tony, Sundays always had Dad as a part of them.
Understandably, those first few days were tough.
"I had to keep shaking myself and telling myself to get focused and locked in," Tony said. "My mind just wasn't really there."
It helped that Tony had his son, Tony, Jr., at the ballpark with him. Before the season started, Tony had made the decision to have his son and wife, Stacy, spend the summer with him in Pittsburgh so that he could spend more time with his impressionable and growing 14-year-old boy. Now, they needed each other more than ever before.
"We were always close, but we've grown closer through this," Tony said. "I've seen the hurt and pain that he's going through. He's a good kid and I love him and I don't take him for granted either. Hopefully he feels toward me as I felt toward my father."
Tony then laughs and admits that the standards for that have been set quite high.
In just less than three weeks, Tony will return to Bowling Green. He'll take about two days for himself and then, as he always does in the offseason, he'll get to work as a logger. He wants to ensure that the business his father began at the age of 18 lives on, even if it means his labor is needed.
Tony knows that it will be in those moments, especially, when his mind will wander and his heart will ache. But he'll also walk in his father's footsteps. And, in doing so, he will continue to heal.
"He was my hero," Tony said of his father. "He taught me at a young age about working hard, applying yourself and believing that you can achieve anything that you wanted to. He was just a great man. I love him, and I miss him dearly."
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.