Philip Humber’s perfect game comforted grieving Lemont widow of diehard Sox fan
BY MARK KONKOL Writer At Large firstname.lastname@example.org June 10, 2012 12:10AM
Chicago White Sox starting pitcher Philip Humber, center, is mobbed by teammates after pitching a perfect baseball game against the Seattle Mariners, Saturday, April 21, 2012, in Seattle. The White Sox won 4-0. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
Updated: July 11, 2012 10:25AM
On April 21, Philip Humber hurled a slider just off the outside corner that dipped under a check swing, bounced off A.J. Pierzynski’s mitt and rolled as if God had set time in slow motion through manicured blue grass toward a place less than perfect.
The unheralded White Sox pitcher barked commands that might as well have been prayers: “Go get it — throw him out.”
He had faith, and it was done. Humber had retired every batter he faced through nine innings to join the short list of 21 major leaguers — Cy Young, Catfish Hunter, Sandy Koufax and Mark Buehrle, among them — to pitch a perfect game.
“I don’t know what Philip Humber is doing in this list,” Humber said after the game. “I have no idea what my name is doing there.”
But White Sox fan Rachael Reyna says she might know.
For her, that perfect game was a sign — from heaven.
On Feb. 16, Reyna’s daughter Ava — a 3-year-old spitfire who despite her father’s allegiance to the White Sox insisted on rooting for the Cubs — had a seizure in her sleep. The little girl had suffered seizures before, but a new medicine had stopped them and she seemed healthy, happy as ever. But in an instant, sometime after 2 a.m., Reyna’s little angel was gone.
Reyna barely had time to grieve herself — let alone explain the unexplainable to her 6-year-old son AJ and 5-year old daughter Lexi, 5 — when a doctor on April 16 delivered more terrible news: Reyna’s husband, Carlos, would lose his six-year battle with carcinoid cancer.
“The doctor came into a hospital room and said, ‘You’re really sick. You’ve got weeks, maybe months, to live. Carlos was floored. He thought he was getting better. He asked me, ‘Do I start getting scared now?’”
Reyna was terrified.
She asked Carlos to write their children a letter, words they might cherish forever.
“I wanted him to write about how much he loved them,” she said. “I wanted him to tell them the kind of people he wanted them to grow up to be.”
But Carlos couldn’t do it. He was thin and fragile. The light in his eyes had faded. He didn’t look like the strong guy she met on a blind date in 1996. You could hardly tell he was the same guy who loved his family — and his White Sox — with such passion.
Hope had been overcome by fate.
Reyna, 41, believes that a person’s spirit lingers with the people who love them. Shortly after Ava died, Reyna and Carlos were in their living room when a light turned on without anyone flipping the switch. “It was a message from Ava,” Reyna said.
She pleaded with husband, “Will you come to me? Will you come to me and tell me you are with Ava and you’re both OK?”
Carlos was so weak, but she needed him to promise. “Yes,” he told her. “I will.”
On April 20, Carlos lay in a hospital bed set up in the living room surrounded by family.
AJ and Lexi cuddled along side their father.
“Is dad going to die?” Lexi asked her mother. All that was left was the truth.
“But he’s my cuddle buddy,” Lexi said, sobbing hard. “Who will be my cuddle partner?”
Reyna’s already broken heart shattered.
Carlos died that day at 2 o’clock in the afternoon. He was 39 years old.
Carlos was a diehard Sox fan.
And when they got married in 1999 his wife became a Sox fan, too.
They bought season tickets. His Cubs fan brothers-in-law gave him grief about that.
After 2005, Carlos had the best comeback: When was it the Cubs last won a World Series? And if that didn’t work, Carlos could always show off the photo of him holding his boy, AJ, next to the World Series trophy.
That’s what was on John Sommese’s mind when he heard radio reports that a pitcher nobody had ever heard of on the Sox — his brother-in-law’s favorite team — had thrown a perfect game. He sent text messages to his sister and his friends.
“This is Carlos. If there was any way he could give me a message this was the perfect sign that he could give,” Sommese said. “Take nothing away from Humber, but on our end we strongly believe there was an angel up in heaven watching every pitch.”
When Reyna got the news she smiled like she hadn’t smiled in so long.
“Maybe it sounds crazy, but it was kind of comforting,” she said. “It made me feel that they were OK.”
When he heard the story Humber smiled, too.
“That’s one of the neat things about sports . . . how it can bring moments of happiness in times of extreme sorrow,” Humber said in the Sox dugout Thursday. “It shows how God works. I don’t know those people and they don’t know me, but He can use people who don’t know each other to bring comfort during a time like that . . . My prayers are with her and the people who are still here and there’s hope they’ll meet up again some day and get to talk about that and relive it.”