Oak Ridge’s Own Angel in the Outfield

“Who can say for certain. Maybe you’re still here.
I feel you all around me. Your memory’s so clear.”
Josh Groban

On May 11, 2010, Shaun Finley, a former member of the Oak Ridge High School baseball team died in a tragic accident. Tonight, March 1, 2011, a pre-game ceremony was held at the ballfield to retire Shaun’s #24 jersey.

From the moment Shaun’s family was escorted to the pitcher’s mound to begin the ceremony, I held my breath. Would the words spoken to all of the family and friends gathered to honor Shaun’s memory be sufficient to convey just how much his life had impacted those who knew him…particularly those in the baseball program at Oak Ridge High School? Would this tribute add to the treasured memories in their hearts?

Barbara Finley, Shaun’s mother, who rarely if ever missed a game, told me afterwards, “I  don’t know who planned all of this, but it was perfect. I never could have imagined the tribute could be as awesome as it was. Every word brought back memories and happy tears.” I let her know that it was all Coach Scheiner, who, from almost the moment of hearing about Shaun’s tragic accident, had decided to retire Shaun’s #24 jersey at the first varsity home game of the 2011 season.

The ceremony began with Shaun’s mother, Barbara, his father, Dwayne, his sister Kristina, and his Uncle Bob Brown who had driven in from Austin with his wife, Cindy, for the ceremony, taking the field. This was followed by one of the most touching moments of the night. The entire 23-man Oak Ridge High School varsity baseball team walked together out to the mound to present Barbara with a dozen peach roses and 23 hugs. The coach had learned that Shaun had always given his mom peach roses for her birthday. It was only fitting to do so tonight.

My son gave one of those hugs. He initially met Barbara and Shaun when Shaun’s 2001 Little League All-Star team won the District 28 title. My two sons and I followed the team to Waco for the State Tournament and then to Florida for the Regional Tournament. We were so welcomed by the team and the team families. They made my two little boys, 6 and 8 years old, feel pretty special. At the end of their All-Star run, one game short of the Little League World Series, they gave my sons 2 baseballs signed by the team.

Here, tonight, my son was presenting roses to, and hugging the team mom, Shaun’s mom, who had so warmly welcomed him years ago. Here, tonight, my son with his team, had signed a baseball given to Shaun’s father as a tribute to his son.

I was watching more than just hugs on the field. I was watching 23 young men help comfort a family and pay tribute to the life of a special son, brother, nephew and friend.

After the ceremony, Barbara expressed her heartfelt thanks and said “my best part of the evening was my peach roses and the boys. I so miss Shaun’s hugs and kisses. Every time one of the boys hugged me I felt a part of Shaun.”

The theme of Shaun’s tribute,  written by head varsity baseball coach Stacy Scheiner and announced by Doug Sarant, was remembering how much fun Shaun had playing the game of baseball.

“Shaun was the type of player that was as serious about baseball as anyone, but at the same time just being around him made all of his teammates and coaches enjoy the game so much more.

“When you talk about the traits of a team player, you think of the words passion, character and unselfishness. Shaun wore those words at all times. You can add heart as well. One thing that only those real close to Shaun knew is he had to fight through adversity as well. At one point in his high school career, he was suffering from headaches and nosebleeds, but kept playing and blowing it off thinking it was normal. He just couldn’t believe anything could keep him from playing baseball. Finally, it became too much to take and he went to the doctor. What the doctor found was a tumor. Shaun loved the game so much he had been playing with a tumor in his head! Shaun wasn’t going to let this deter him, so he did what the doctors instructed him to do, but worked on his game whenever possible so that when it was time to play again, he was going to be ready.

“When it was time for the District post-season awards, it won’t surprise you then that Shaun Finley was picked to be a co-recipient of the HEART Award.

“It wasn’t just baseball he was good at either. He was good at life. Teachers loved him. Administration loved him. He was nice to his fellow students. Shaun reached us all in various ways and we are all better for having been in contact with him. We just knew that when we all heard he passed away, we were all crushed but because of the kind of person Shaun was, we started thinking of all the good he stood for and how he made our lives more fun. We mourned, but we smiled because we knew we were blessed to have been associated with Shaun. We were touched by an awesome human being and we just knew Shaun was on that stairway to heaven.”

Doug paused while a huge baseball on the outfield wall was unveiled. It reads, “Shaun Finley 24”. Doug continued, “ We know Shaun is looking down now bragging to his new friends about how the left field wall looks a lot better now… we think so too.

“As for the Finleys-this should go without saying, but for as long as you come here, you will be welcomed with open arms and open hearts.”

Shaun’s mom, Barbara, shared with friends, “ I think ORHS now has an angel in the outfield.”

“As my heart holds you, just one beat away, I cherish all you gave me everyday.” – Josh Groban

 

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Chuck Briese, Oak Ridge Now

[avatar user="cbriese" size="thumbnail" align="left"] Chuck Briese has been a resident of South Montgomery County since 1988. He and his lovely and patient wife, Leslie, have six sons, with only one left to finish high school. Chuck has been a Cub Scout leader, a Little League baseball coach, a church youth leader, and a general troublemaker over the course of the past 25 years. He is obsessed with his lawn, and likes restaurants that serve food that fills up the plate. He has a tendency to tilt at windmills, which may explain why he started Oak Ridge Now.

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