Abroken nose, like the one Evan Song suffered a few weeks ago, will heal quickly enough. Not so with a heart broken by the loss of a younger brother. The healing comes slowly and unevenly with acts of love and kindness, and, yes, can be sped up a little by the joy of a mad dash around the bases.
So here was Evan Song, four months after the tragic death of his brother Ethan, a death that had left a shoreline town stunned, leading off the seventh inning of the state Class L quarterfinals Saturday. Guilford had scored twice in the sixth, yet the Indians were still down, 4-3, heading into their final at-bat at North Haven.
“Evan was struggling a little in the game,” coach Bryan Hayden said. “I said to one of my assistants, ‘Don’t think we want to hit for him here, I think he’s going to do something special.”
Song drew a walk.
“My message to Evan had been to find a way on and you’re getting the steal sign,” Hayden said. “He’s a tremendous base stealer.”
“I got a good jump,” Song said.
Song stole second.
“It was close,” he said, “Now I’m thinking, ‘You got to score on a base hit. You got to give it all you got.’”
And so he did, scoring on Gray Stephens’ single, to keep the season alive, to keep the high school careers of a tight group of 11 seniors alive, to push a rather remarkable state playoff game into extra innings.
— Sean Patrick Bowley (@SPBowley) June 2, 2018
As he stood outside the Guilford gymnasium on Tuesday, a few hours after the state semifinal game against Wethersfield at Dunkin’ Donuts Park had been postponed a day, Evan Song traced back to the days before and after Ethan’s death from a gunshot wound on Jan. 31. Ethan Song was 15.
“He was a creative, fun-loving kid,” Evan said. “He played lacrosse. He’d say the craziest things to get a rise out of people. He just really loved life.
“For my parents, it was really tough. I know it has taken my mom a while to get back to normal, my dad, too. It has been a hard transition for us, my sister, me. We always think about him.”
An honor student, Ethan’s obituary would explain how he became known as the “Dog Whisperer” for his ability to calm and win the hearts of all the foster dogs his mom, Kristin, cared for. The candlelight vigil for a town gathered in grief, the celebration of his life three days later, they can be a blur for a family in mourning.
“There was not a lot of time after his death that the season started,” Evan said. “Baseball was really good for me. It gave me something to do every day. It helped me get through it. Being with the guys, going to pasta parties, going on bus rides, it helps.
“Days when I didn’t feel like going to practice or want to play, I think of Ethan. He doesn’t have the opportunity to play sports again.”
Evan Song stopped for a moment.
“It motivated me,” he said softly.
Matt Donlan, Guilford’s senior catcher, counts Song as one of his best friends. He has gone on vacation with the Song family to Block Island. He said everybody’s always over the Songs, they have a Fourth of July party, a ton of different stuff.
“They’re just a great family,” Donlan said. “To see Evan go through a tough time like that, we see the pain, we try to do as much as we can. Our slogan is, ‘Do it for E.’ We’ve dedicated the season to Ethan. Anything to put a smile on Evan’s face, to put a smile on the Song family’s face.
“I think it does more than you think. To give them some happiness.”
On back of some of the boys’ warmup shirts on this day were the words Song Strong. On the side of each cap are the letters “ES.”
“Evan does an amazing job keeping positive,” Donlan said. “I can’t be prouder of the kid. Every day is obviously a struggle, but he stays strong. He finds goodness in a tough thing that happened and ways inspire himself and people around him.”
“Evan loves baseball,” Hayden said. “He has started since his freshman year. I’ve coached him since he was 13. He’s an energetic, enthusiastic kid. He comes every day with a smile. He’s a pleasure to coach, easy to root for.”
So after rooting their centerfielder home in the seventh inning Saturday, the Indians went into extra innings. North Haven loaded the bases in the ninth with one out. The rain moved in hard and heavy. The umpires stopped the game. Hayden was happy not to lose on a slick ball. The game would be resumed Sunday. That also meant 24 hours of angst.
“Matt McGrath has a calm demeanor,” Hayden said. “He was the right guy in that situation.”
North Haven and Bob DeMayo, who recently scored his 900th victory, are renowned for scoring any way possible.
“I got a ton of text messages that night: Watch out for the squeeze,” Hayden said.
“I was thinking all night, don’t mess up and hit the first kid,” McGrath said. “First pitch I almost did.”
McGrath got Peyton Farina to line out to third and wiggled out of the jam on a grounder to short. Guilford won in the 10th after an RBI hit from John Luke Cianciolo. Donlan squeezed a pop for the final out and then jubilation.
A stirring victory by a group of kids cannot end the heartbreak for Mike, Kristin, Emily and Evan Strong, but to quote Matt Donlan it can do more than you think.
“It was the craziest game I’ve ever been in,” said Song, who will attend Boston College in the fall. “To be part of the comeback was awesome. The rain delay over two days, bases loaded and one out, all odds against us, it was incredible.”
“It was a bad time when Evan lost his brother,” McGrath said. “But we’re all brothers. We told him, ‘Whatever you need we’ll be here for you.’ Playing for him brought us closer.”
If Guilford wins Wednesday, the Class L state final is Friday night at Palmer Field in Middletown. The other three class finals are Saturday. This means Evan will be free Saturday for the SongStrong: Keep Kids Safe 5K in Guilford.
All proceeds from the race will go to the Ethan Miller Song Foundation. More than $100,000 has already been raised in his name to support animal rights, human rights, and gun education and advocacy. There is inspiration in unimaginable tragedy.
“During a bunting drill late in the season, a ball skipped up off his bat and hit Evan in the face,” Hayden said. “He missed Senior Day, but he made it right back for the SCC Tournament. He’s playing with a broken nose. He’s a tough kid.”
Brian Hayden stopped for a second to consider a broken heart and nodded his head in approval of what he was about to say.
“And he’s a special kid,” Hayden said.