CHICAGO — If there was anywhere I could find my cousin's spirit, this would be it. We ventured twice in the early 2000s to Wrigley Field — the classic ballpark on Chicago's North Side — to root for our hapless Phillies. The memories stayed with us ever since.
I sat in the visiting dugout Monday afternoon, a few hours before the Phillies took the field. This team, the one I cover, somewhat resembles the teams we used to root for. Not yet contenders, but the hope that winning was near. The thoughts of my cousin Kevin and those baseball trips we took each summer came rushing back.
My family lost Kevin Breen — a 27-year-old from Mayfair with a bright future, beautiful blond hair, and a personality that lit up each room — on April 17. He lost his battle with depression, a crippling fight he waged in secrecy. He shared his secret in a note that he left. This disease too often attacks the best of us, and warning signs are not always obvious. Kevin did not even share his secret with his closest friends.
Kevin was a friend to too many to count, worked as a nurse, loved the Phillies, and was just incredibly cool. He was the man. Our love for baseball, which was passed down from our dads, strengthened our bond.
That love blossomed each summer as kids when our dads would take us to a new city to see the Phillies play. We'd pack into a minivan or even hop on a plane to catch games in Chicago, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, and Toronto. Fathers and sons traveling to see the Phillies. What a dream.
Of all the trips, Wrigley was the one that always seemed the most special. We stayed downtown, took the Red Line to the ballpark, and marveled at everything Wrigley had to offer. We went to two of the three games that weekend. The Phillies won just once. And of course it was the game we skipped.
We supported the Phillies when they were bad, making it even sweeter when they won the World Series when we were in college. I happened to be at Penn State the night of the parade and Kevin and I met up, talked about those old trips, and toasted our champions. Those trips made that title feel even more special.
I took the prayer card from Kevin's funeral with me to Chicago and told his dad — a retired Philadelphia fire captain with an unrivaled work ethic — that I would stash it in the visiting dugout. Maybe it could bring the Phillies some luck.
My Uncle Joe told me to hide the card in a spot where it could last the whole season. It was still there on Thursday when Kevin's Phillies left town.
I thought back to those trips, when life's biggest worry was if we were going to get to the ballpark early enough for batting practice so we could wait for autographs. I remembered how we would pass the time during the long car rides with a baseball trivia game we created, by swapping classic rock CDs, and ribbing each other. I was usually on the receiving end of the barbs from Kevin and my older brother, Paul. And they still make me laugh.
Kevin's loss was sudden and shocking. My aunt and uncle lost their youngest child. His three older siblings lost a great brother. Our family lost a piece of our hearts. His buddies — from St. Matthew's in Mayfair and Roman Catholic and Father Judge and Penn State and everywhere else — lost a true friend. The church for his funeral was filled the way it is on Christmas. He seemed to be friends with everyone.
Kevin finished nursing school last summer in Pittsburgh and we met there for dinner after the Phillies played the Pirates. We retold the stories from our baseball trips, memories that are more than 10 years old. There's the time my dad had to pull the van to the side of the dark turnpike because Kevin had to go to the bathroom and the rest stop was miles away; the time we sneaked out of our Chicago hotel room and explored downtown after our dads fell asleep; and the time Kevin worked up the courage to get on stage at a Chicago blues club and play guitar with the house band.
He told me last summer that he couldn't wait to get back home, find a full-time job, and get his life started. Kevin had two offers, eventually deciding to work at a hospital in Bucks County. His future was bright.
That's what made it so crushing when I stood outside his house that Monday night. We lost a great person. My brother called me to share the news, which seemed so far-fetched that I couldn't believe what he was saying. Not Kevin. The unimaginable tragedy was real.
I told my aunt, an incredibly strong woman, that I wanted just one more chance to hang out with Kev. That's it. Just once more. It would be Kevin, my brother, and I sitting around talking about those baseball trips. We would tell the same stories. Just one more time.
I know that will not happen, but it might someday. In the meantime, I will carry my cousin's spirit wherever I go. And whenever I'm in Chicago, I'll head to Wrigley Field. Kevin is there.