Team raises money for Owens baseball player who lost parentsWritten by Brandi Barhite | Community Ombudsman | firstname.lastname@example.org
Teams sometimes seem like family. Other times, they are family. Owens Community College baseball player Michael Finch is realizing the latter after losing both of his parents in less than two months.
His mother, Wanda, was diagnosed with lung and bone cancers while he was home in Norwalk during winter break. She started chemo the week he returned to school with doctors saying it was treatable, depending on how the chemo went.
That week, Finch talked to his 56-year-old mom and learned that “chemo kicked her butt.” In a few days, she was in the hospital. Then his sister, Ellen, called to say, “Mom isn’t doing good.”
Finch rushed home. By Jan. 17, “She was done, she wasn’t my mom; she passed that night.”
“If I didn’t think it was curable, I wouldn’t have gone back to school so soon. It was a shocker that it happened so quickly,” he said.
His team rallied around the pitcher and outfielder.
“I wouldn’t be where I am today without them,” Finch said. “The whole team came to the showing. I appreciated it. They were there for me every step of the way and welcomed me back. They had my back. It was a relief to have people in my life like that.”
One week later, the 19-year-old was back at Owens. His dad, Charles, insisted that he continue to play and get an education.
On March 6, while at spring training in Panama City, Fla., he talked to his father, who was proud that Finch would be pitching in the game that night.
Later that day, his 17-year-old sister, Ellen, called to say she had found their dad dead in the kitchen. He was lying on his back with his head through the wall. The 62-year-old had diabetes-related health problems, but his cause of death is unknown.
“I never expected to hear that,” Finch said of the news he got on the beach.
He fell to his knees. Both of his parents were gone in less than two months. It was just he and his sister now —and his team.
Head coach Devin Taylor said getting the news about Finch’s dad was horrific. It was game day for the players. The team was supposed to play at 9 a.m., but rain pushed the game to 5 p.m. When Finch called him, the players were hanging out on the beach and the coaches were at lunch. He said, “Coach, my dad is dead.”
The whole team hurried back to the condo. Finch still wanted to play the game that night.
“We got everyone together after we got back to the condo. I talked to Michael one-on-one about getting him a flight back to Ohio or we would rent a car and drive him.”
But he wanted to play because he knew that would be his dad’s wish.
“That is a hard decision to make as a coach. I thought about it for a while. I called the rest of the team into the condo and told everyone what Michael wanted to do. Everyone wanted to play.”
Although the team lost 9-8, the coming weeks would be the true judge of the team’s worth.
“This is his family. That is part of my philosophy,” Taylor said. “Being a family within a team, relying on each other through the ups and downs. This team has done a good job of supporting Michael and his situation.”
Kelly Skender of Illinois decided to start raising money for Finch and his sister, who is living with an uncle. Skender’s son, Alec, is Finch’s teammate.
“I was trying to think about how to help them with their situation. The most thing I could think of was trying to get money.”
The goal is to raise $50,000, which Skender knows is high, but “you have to shoot high and keep rolling with it.”
Finch plans to pay off his parents’ house with family savings. He had the option to sell the house, but wanted to keep it. He wants to live there during summer break and, hopefully, spend time with his sister.
“I have to set an example for her. I can’t just be weak,” he said.
Taylor said he is trying to share Finch’s story because with the money Finch wants to send his sister to college.
“I think once people hear their story, they will want to help this young man and sister,” Taylor said.
Finch isn’t on scholarship at Owens; he is a walk-on.
“Michael is from a smaller area and last year was my first year here at Owens,” Taylor said. “Our recruiting process with him was late. Ability-wise, he is probably a scholarship, but he chose to play here anyway.”
Taylor said Finch is a natural athlete who has great composure. He has a passion for the game with an equally strong arm.
“His personality really drew me to him. He was a great young man. He was smart and had a desire to pursue an education.”
Alyssa Lassey, a basketball player at Owens, put Finch’s name on her tennis shoes after hearing about his dad’s death.
Lassey said nearly every Owens athlete is helping with the fundraiser. Even alum are spreading the word and donating.
“I think it is good that Michael is here; he is still playing baseball and still around everyone. He can be with us and keep his mind off of it.”
Taylor said baseball is played to escape reality. This has helped Finch whose reality is harder than most.
“We are his family now,” Taylor said.
To donate to Michael Finch and his sister, Ellen, go to http://www.gofundme.com/7fhyrc