This is a story about a face in the crowd - the crowd being
the ranks of men who coach baseball. However, for the rest of our lives, this
one man will always stand out, not for what he did on the field, but
It’s the call no parent ever wants to receive - the one that
jerks you from the ordinary into a world of confusion and fear. “Brian has been
taken to the hospital...we’re not sure...please come quickly.”
My husband and I were preparing to go to Raleigh, North
Carolina with Brian for the biggest tournament of the fall baseball season,
combining it with an “official visit” to one of the colleges. The travel and
tournaments that make up the fall showcase season had been great. We made many
new friends and spent great time with Brian’s fall teammates - most of who were
seniors and playing their last round of baseball before the pressures of
college baseball would begin. Brian had been playing for the Mid Atlantic
Rookies, coached by Mike Chroniger. We were having the time of our life, seeing all the colleges and playing on some
great ball fields. Brian had developed a good relationship with his coach, and
was at the top of his game, mentally and physically.
The doctors at the first hospital offered us no answers and very little hope - thinking he had collapsed from bacterial meningitis.
However, enough tests came back negative that they ruled that out, but still
prepared us for the worst. We had to sign permission for life support to be
started - a chaotic mass of papers and signatures to just keep my son, who was
now in a coma, breathing. As they transferred him to the University hospital, a
friend asked what she could do, who she could call for me. “Please,” I said,
“call Coach Chroniger, tell him what’s happening.”
Brian was transferred to University of Maryland Medical Center - still on life support, and with a poor prognosis. No one knew what was
wrong - many futile guesses, hundreds of questions from doctors, and still no
answers. We were numb with fear and anxiety, and the hours started slipping by
as we waited for some sign from Brian that he would recover.
At 1:00 a.m. Coach Chroniger appeared at the hospital, visibly disturbed at what was happening. Brian was in isolation, but Coach just
scrubbed and gowned and went right in. He bent over Brian, and started to talk
to him just like on the field, all the while patting Brian’s chest for
emphasis. Mike looked over at us, and told us to go get some sleep, he would
stay with Brian. For the next three nights, Mike came between work and home,
and stayed with Brian for hours. He brought food and drink for my family, most
of whom stayed at the hospital. Mike and the team left for Raleigh that weekend, but every night we got a call in
the ICU from Mike. After the tournament was over, Mike came to the hospital
before he even went home.
It was five days before Brian began to come out of the coma,
still undiagnosed. Mike had brought a Rookies shirt and hung it where Brian
might see it when he opened his eyes for the first time. He couldn’t speak yet, because of the
respirator. But when Mike came that night, there was a flicker of a smile from
Brian when Coach said to “take a knee, Brew!” On day six, the respirator was
removed, and slowly Brian started coming back to us. When Mike would come by,
he and Brian would talk about the team, and Mike would help him sit up and get
dressed, teasing him about all the cute nurses taking care of him.
The nurses and doctors knew Mike well by this time, watching him day by day, and were astounded by
the time and attention he was giving to his player. Brian began to improve
daily, gaining strength and mobility. He was, however, depressed and scared
about his future. Again, Mike was able to step in and reassure Brian as only a
coach can do - with reality and encouragement, with optimism and truth. The
doctors had finally made a diagnosis of viral encephalitis, and they
anticipated a full recovery in time. When Brian left the hospital, he was on
the road back, determined to play baseball again.
Mike was a constant presence for us, a source of strength
and encouragement in a dark time. Brian doesn’t remember much about the
hospital, but he remembers his coach being there. His dad and I remember, too,
and will never forget. If your baseball player is blessed to have a coach like
Mike, please don’t miss a chance to thank him.