"I remember walking back to the baseball field and feeling so alone," said a still shaken Chris Ledbetter, head baseball coach at OPRF who tried valiantly to save the life of Scott Marengi, a 47-year-old umpire who collapsed and died of a heart attack during the second inning of the Huskies' game at Willowbrook on Thursday. "It put so much into perspective."
Ledbetter only felt alone for a few minutes, until he reached his team, huddled together on a hill behind the dugout. The group had witnessed something traumatic together. They were now bonded by death.
"I thought our forever moment would be something like a State title," said Ledbetter, "but now it will be the death of an umpire. It's a moment that can't be changed."
Cut Ledbetter some slack if you think he's taking this hard. He helped roll Marengi off of his catcher Ryan Spierowski when the umpire collapsed. He's the one who took charge, hollered out orders, began CPR. He's the one who worked the defibrillator that after six minutes showed Marengi's pulse had finally returned. He's the one paramedics said to continue with chest compressions as they pushed the stretcher to the parking lot. He's the one who was talking to Marengi, a jolly chit-chatter, on several occasions before games in the past.
Ledbetter's the one who had to try and explain death to his stunned baseball club.
"I told them they had to get busy living. Life is precious ?" Ledbetter stopped mid-sentence during our interview over the phone on Monday, obviously still upset. Maybe not so much over the fact that a man died in his arms?#34;he did the best he could?#34;but that his team had to witness it.
"I care about these guys so much, that I wish they didn't have to go through something like this," he said. "We were all on the same page that day."
What can come from the death of Marengi? A unity between ball players, between coaches. Before someone died right before their eyes there was only a high school baseball team. Now, there's a family. They work together, they play together, they grieve together, and they rejoice together. After the incident, the Huskies knocked in 46 runs in four games, three of which they shutout their opponents. I'd call it relieving some stress.
What else can be learned? That your coach can set an example for the way you want to live your life. Ledbetter, who is CPR certified and teaches a class in the procedure, didn't miraculously save Marengi's life, but he used every ounce of his being trying. He didn't hesitate to give the dying man mouth-to-mouth. Many of us would have taken a step backward, not Ledbetter.
"It was a real act of heroism what Chris did," said Laurie Hamen, the mother of a ballplayer on the team. "I think the kids can all look at Chris as a role model for what you do in that situation. I have no doubt the players will always remember his actions that day."
Ledbetter believes Marengi died on that day, on that field, during that particular game for a reason. A high school baseball team saw the last minutes of a man's life, an experience each player will draw from when the little things seem overwhelming. But a high school baseball team saw something else that day too. The Huskies saw their coach, their leader, fight for a man's life, a man their coach barely even knew. I'm quite sure that image will come to the forefront of their minds in the years to come. Perhaps it will help save someone else's life.