I have several schools that I assign games for throughout the off-season. I always work a game or games at one of them and assign all the others. Today, it was Santa Monica High School. I did the varsity game and then came out to do the JV game that followed.
I enter the field from the left field corner. There was an assemblage of players near the dugout, and as I walked closer, I noticed that they all were wearing the same No. 10 jersey, and that they were somewhat somber. I spoke to one of the players I knew best, and I asked him if indeed he lost a teammate. He looked at me, looked around for a few seconds trying to summon the strength to speak. His eyes started to fill up a little, and he bit his lip to avoid crying. I put my hand on his shoulder and said I was sorry.
And then he looked over toward this high-rise hotel nearby, and said, "Matthew jumped off the top of that hotel."
Good God! I was stunned. We hugged briefly and I wept right along with him. The team clustered and some more of them told me about their departed teammate. We all did a lot of soul-searching, and I launched into one of the greatest pep talks of my life, trying to inspire these kids to always look ahead to a different time of life when life will be fuller and better than they can ever imagine at this stage. And they'll want to live and live long and fulfilling lives. (I had to address a team of my own a dozen years ago when one of their teammates was killed by a drunk driver. His name was also Matthew.)
And then, I had to clear my head and work a game. It was uniquely difficult.
And after a bizarre first inning, my thoughts drifted to my own daughter, a high-achieving but confused teenager with a panic disorder that we pulled out of high school and home-schooled, rather than have her succumb to the pressure that is placed on these kids by this insanely paced system that is forced on them. Every child is different. We can't have expectations and make demands that they are incapable of meeting. Our daughter is different, so we take a different course.
We don't know why this young man did what he did. No one is able to make sense of it. The darkness inside his mind was not detected. None of his friends, family members, teachers, coaches or teammates knew of his inner sadness.
But they are all permanently scarred by the tragic incident that occurred after Matthew bolted from practice and made his way across the street and ventured to the roof of this building and plunged to his death right in front of everyone. They heard him screaming as he fell.
We all are in a noble vocation: the baseball umpire. We are chiefly responsible for providing an outlet that gives young people the opportunity to play the game they love. But more importantly, we help keep them on a quest that requires that they keep their mind and body healthy while they journey through the most confusing time of life.
Thank you for your patience.
The sad story:
Santa Monica High student leaps to his death
The 14-year-old boy jumped from a hotel near the school after bolting from baseball practice. Family, friends and authorities seek answers.
January 18, 2011|By Martha Groves and Catherine Saillant, Los Angeles Times
Police and school officials questioned Monday why a seemingly upbeat and well-liked freshman at Santa Monica High School bolted from baseball practice, climbed to the 10th floor of a hotel and leaped to his death.
Matthew Mezza, 14, was reportedly practicing with teammates about 5 p.m. Friday when he abruptly ran from the group, crossed the street to the Sheraton-Delfina Hotel and jumped from the upper floor as his horrified teammates looked on, said Santa Monica Police Sgt. Jay Trisler. Trisler said he did not have other details. It appears to be a suicide, but an autopsy must be completed before an official determination is made, he said.
Officials with the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District, which is conducting its own investigation, were unavailable for comment Monday because the district was closed for the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday.
Neil Comess-Daniels, rabbi at Beth Shir Shalom, the synagogue Matthew had attended, said everyone who knew the boy was shocked. He was bright, upbeat and dependable and gave no indication he was seriously troubled, Comess-Daniels said.
"He was certainly not the kind of person you would expect to have these feelings," Comess-Daniels said. "Something went horribly, horribly wrong."
The rabbi was summoned to the hospital Friday evening, but Matthew had died by the time he arrived.
"The family was inconsolable," Comess-Daniels said.
On Monday, a sidewalk tribute just across the street from Santa Monica High's Pico Boulevard entrance was decorated with daisies, spring tulips and roses. Poster boards were filled with loving comments from the teen's classmates and friends.
Rita and Gerald Schneir, Matthew's grandparents, were there trying to make sense of their grandson's impulsive act. Matthew, "the perfect child," had a good relationship with his mother and could tell her anything, his grandmother said.
He was an excellent student, good in sports and had lots of friends who were athletes and top students, she said. There was no indication of trouble or bullying, she said.
"All four of his baseball coaches came to the hospital,'' she said. "They were totally mystified."
On Facebook, Santa Monica High students created several tribute pages to their classmate.
"He will always be in our hearts,' " wrote Veronica Garcia. "Just wish he knew how much of an effect he had on us."