Wissen, 17, died Saturday after collapsing at his home. His team honored him during a state playoff game against Marcos de Niza.
The 18 players on the Flagstaff baseball team dropped to one knee on the grass along the third-base line. Each of them reached out with one hand, their fingers touching the white “25” that had been painted on the grass.
They remained there, heads down, bodies motionless, for a couple of minutes. Finally, they got to their feet and embraced each other.
In just a couple of minutes they had a baseball game to play, a first-round matchup against Tempe Marcos de Niza in the 4A Conference state playoffs. Their coach, Mike DoBosh, knew it would be good for the kids. They needed to “release some emotion,” he said.
Evan Wissen remained in their thoughts, though.
They thought of him when they looked toward the far end of the dugout, to a Lady of Guadalupe candle and, behind it, a framed picture of a smiling Wissen giving the thumbs up.
They thought of him whenever Hunter Darris made a play at first base and they saw the number 25 on the back of his jersey. Darris has worn No. 7 all season, but he was particularly close to Wissen. So on Tuesday, it was his honor to wear Wissen’s number.
They thought of him when they noticed the white chalk “EW 25” on the caps of the Marcos de Niza players.
And they thought of him during the moment of silence.
Wissen, 17, died on Saturday, just two days after he told his family he was going to take a shower and then go to bed. His father found him lying on the bathroom floor, unresponsive, the water running.
DoBosh said doctors still don’t know why Wissen died. There were no clues. On Friday, when the Flagstaff baseball team visited Wissen at the hospital, there was hope he would recover. But he was taken off life support on Saturday after being declared brain dead.
“It’s been a tough few days,” DoBosh said.
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DoBosh politely declined a request to talk to one of his players. Understandably, he wanted their focus to be on the game, which Flagstaff lost 8-3, ending its season. But before he conducted infield practice, DoBosh took a few minutes to talk – and smile – about Wissen, a three-year varsity player whom he called “the life of the party.”
“He wanted to make sure everyone was having a good time,” DoBosh said. “… He loved being the guy. He loved being bigger than life. He was just a great kid to be around.”
Wissen had a passion for music and art. His fashion sense was part of his personality. He wore ripped jeans, white T-shirts and leather jackets, a bandanna often wrapped around his head. When the Flagstaff High bus driver arrived on campus Tuesday to take the team down to the Valley, there stood Wissen’s teammates, decked out in Wissen’s preferred garb.
“That’s what we’ve been trying to do the last few days, making sure that spirt is still part of the team,” DoBosh said.
On Friday morning, DoBosh gathered his players in the biology classroom. He told them what had happened to Wissen. And he told them he loved them.
“We probably don’t say that enough,” he said. “An event like this reminds you that you need to do that. It’s not about baseball. It’s about relationships with these kids.”
As Flagstaff’s players gathered around the painted white 25, Marcos de Niza coach Steve Schuck tried to fight back tears behind his dark sunglasses. He knew Wissen had been a big part of Flagstaff’s baseball team, a first baseman, designated hitter and pitcher who was good enough to recently sign a letter of intent with George Fox University, a Christian college in Oregon. But when he looked at the GoFundMe account set up for Wissen’s family, he noticed they shared the same birthday: May 11.
“I can’t imagine what they’re going through,” he said.
After Flagstaff made the final out and players from both teams walked quietly toward each other to shake hands, Schuck presented DoBosh with a card for the “Flagstaff baseball family” and $250 the team had raised for the Wissen family. A few minutes later the 18 Flagstaff kids, who had been sitting on the outfield grass between shortstop and third base, got up, retrieved their things and boarded the white school bus for the long ride home.
“Most of these kids have never experienced something like this before,” DoBosh said. “But we’re taking care of one another and looking out for one another. It’s what has held us together.”
Reach Bordow at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at Twitter.com/sBordow. He can be reached at 602-448-8716.