Candlelight vigil honors spirit of West baseball player
By BY JENNIFER PREYSS AND KAYLA BELL - JLPREYSS@VICAD.COM, KBELL@VICAD.COM
April 9, 2012 at 11:05 a.m.
Updated April 9, 2012 at 11:10 p.m.
At Victoria West High School on Monday, Donny Davis held up three fingers in the shape of a W, and said, "Warriors forever!"
A darkened sea of about 200 classmates, teachers and friends - still, silent, and holding candles in honor of Davis' 16-year-old son, Austin Davis - repeated the motion. One by one, three-fingered hands raised high in the air. Silence, punctuated by moments of sniffling and deep breathing, surrounded the crowd.
The crowd was there to honor Austin, a West baseball pitcher who died early Monday morning from unknown causes.
His father, mother Marilyn, and brother Travis Davis wore No. 22 jerseys to honor Austin's memory.
"He just collapsed and stopped breathing. We don't know the reason yet," Davis' mother said of Austin's death.
He collapsed at his home just after 7 a.m. and was transported to DeTar Hospital North where he was pronounced dead at 8:20 a.m. by Precinct 4 Justice of the Peace Henry "Hank" Welfel.
Welfel said an autopsy has been ordered to determine the cause of death.
For those who knew and loved him, Austin was the quiet guy. His personality was mild, playful and even-tempered. He was always making jokes, and enjoyed stirring laughter among friends.
But at school Monday, Austin's teammates went quiet, when they learned their relief pitcher died earlier that morning.
"We found out in first period around 9 a.m.," said freshman Warriors catcher Koby Bynum. "None of us could believe it. "Everyone was saying this was all of a sudden. It was all such a shock."
Austin, a sophomore dedicated to learning and honing his craft on the field, will be remembered for his love of the game. It was a lifelong passion, and he hoped to continue playing as long as the game would allow.
"When he was on the mound, he just loved it. He was good at it and he worked hard at it," Austin's father said. "He wanted to go to the pros, and play college ball ... He just wanted to play baseball."
At the candlelight vigil Monday night, Austin's basketball coach Cody McDonald spoke of his fallen player with adoration.
"He was the first person to call me 'coach.' ... He looked at me and said, 'Yes, Coach?'" McDonald said. "He was that respectful young man; he held himself with pride and integrity."
Austin's baseball coach, Manuel Alvarado, held similar sentiments for No. 22.
"He was a team player, a team leader. As far as his position on the team, he was one of our leaders who came in and closed the door on some people," Alvarado said. "He was a competitor. We're going to miss that. We're going to miss him in the dugout, the competitor that he was."
Davis' love of baseball started at age 4. His father said he knew at a young age that his son had a natural aptitude for the game. But baseball also allowed the father-son pair to bond over the game, using their fondness of America's favorite pastime to grow their relationship.
"I started coaching Austin when he was 8. It was something we loved to do together," his father said.
"All I can remember is the minute he could hold the ball in his hand, he would throw it up and down and say, 'Daddy, can you come play catch with me?'" his mother emotionally recalled. "He never gave up. He was always trying to get Donny off the couch to come play with him."
As Austin grew older, his love of sports expanded to include basketball, football and track.
But no matter what sport he participated in, Austin's family said his first love was baseball.
"Austin was the nicest kid in life, inside and outside the diamond," Davis' brother said, fighting back tears. "But between the lines, he was all business. He played the game hard and tough and the right way."
Travis, 22, said he grew up playing baseball with his brother and knew early on Austin had a real gift for the game.
"I kind of thought it was up to me to teach him everything that I knew in baseball, and in life, so he could learn from my mistakes. I knew he had a real chance of making something of himself," Travis said. "His baseball IQ was extremely high."
Warriors' teammates agree Austin's death is a tragedy and a loss to the team. He was slated to start Friday's game against Gregory-Portland at Riverside Stadium.
And even though they lost a friend and exceptional player this week, the Warriors baseball team has decided to continue the season, dedicating Tuesday's game against Calhoun to their fallen player.
"They asked us if we wanted to cancel the game, but we all decided to play. We hope this adds gas to the fire and motivates us to play as we should be playing," said Warriors' freshman pitcher Shane Kallman. "We want to play for him because that's what he would he want."
Each member of the baseball team was present Monday at the candlelight ceremony, offering hugs and handshakes to Austin's family.
"I hope they go out there and play hard Tuesday and win one for the Warriors. That's what Austin would have wanted," his father said.
Closing the vigil with prayer and song, including The Lord's Prayer and "Amazing Grace," McDonald asked attendees to glance at their flame and remember Austin.
"He lit up rooms with his laughter and smile and integrity. May his flame burn in us the same way and carry on the tradition of who he was," he said.