A Milestone Baseball and Missed Thank You

Today I learned that someone I considered a friend has died of cancer. With the exception of one very long phone call, our friendship was exclusively online.

I met him on the non-Hodgkin's lymphoma board at supportgroups.com. He was 47 when he was diagnosed with small lymphocytic lymphoma.

His diagnosis was, like it is for many people around his age who learn they have a subtype of lymphoma, a complete surprise. He went through the various phases associated with learning one has cancer, although he would always come back to one phase in particular.

Anger.

He had just started dating again—and doing it with enthusiasm—after an extended relationship had come to an end.

He told me his diagnosis didn't make sense because until then, and for a while afterwards, he felt great and was in fantastic shape.

He underwent fludarabine, cyclophosphamide and rituximab (FCR) and later, bendamustine and rituximab. Neither put him into remission, even temporarily.

The phone call we had lasted two hours and though we talked about his disease and we talked about how obstinate his doctor was and how frustrated he was with the mixed messages he was getting from his doctor's office, we mostly talked baseball.

He was a lifelong New York Yankees fan.

In July 2011 when Derek Jeter launched a 3-2 pitch into the leftfield seats at Yankee Stadium for his 3,000th career hit, I told him I was impressed that the guy who caught the ball, Christian Lopez, decided to give the ball back to Jeter, who wanted it, because, in the words of Lopez, "he deserves it."

Lopez is a fool, my friend told me. If Derek Jeter had really wanted that ball, he said, he shouldn't have tried to hit it as far away from himself as physically possible. That's not what you do with things that are important to you.

It stands as the best argument I've ever heard for keeping a milestone ball or at least holding it for high ransom. For that and for other reasons, I owe him a thank you.

It is a thank you I never had the chance to pay him.

There is an obvious, low-hanging analogy here about keeping those things important to us close to us even as time and entropy drag us apart, but my friend was a straight shooter. He wouldn't have gone for any of that shit, so I won't either.

I'm lucky to have known him. He made an impact on my life and forever changed my outlook. I'll remember him every time I watch baseball. That's something I think he would appreciate.

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