Hello, Michigan City.
I know we just met recently due to my arrival here as the newest sports writer at The News-Dispatch, but unfortunately, this past weekend brought some heartbreaking news for myself, my family and the Michigan City community that I wanted to discuss with you all.
My grandfather passed away at the age of 78.
I wanted to stay away from my writing for a little while to be with my family, but I wanted you to feel like a part of the family because that’s what he would’ve wanted. It was always about paying it forward and teaching even when he wasn’t inside of a classroom.
If you didn’t read my introductory column, it was mostly about a man named Allan. You probably know him as Al, Allan, Coach, Coach Whitlow or everyone’s favorite because he might have taught you at some point in your life: Mr. Whitlow.
He was always Dad to my father and his three siblings, and he was Grandpa to my two cousins, my pair of half-siblings and I. It’s been wonderful to have the family back together and picking each other up through the unfortunate circumstances of this past week.
My grandfather loved this community. He put his heart and soul into making Michigan City a better place every single day he was alive. From the greetings at the local gas stations and convenience stores, to making sure he reached out and spoke with numerous managers, waiters and waitresses at various restaurants on his way out the door, he was the kindest man you’d ever know.
He might have forgotten your name when you greeted him once in a while, but rest assured, he knew exactly who you were about 30 minutes later when he’d walk into the kitchen and tell us all who you were. Every time that happened, a good thing about you always followed.
He loved those that were close to him like myself, and he loved each and every one of you. Even the White Sox fans. (He had no choice but to love my father and me, despite our slight differences with the Cubs and Sox.)
The things I’ll remember the most about him is probably what you remember him most for: his humbleness and his modest demeanor. He was such an honest man that didn’t come from a whole lot. I remember when he read my intro column I mentioned earlier. I’ll never forget what he said.
“Why are you writing about me so much,” he asked with a smile. “You should be writing about yourself. You’ve accomplished a lot in your own life. But thank you, grandson. That was very nice.”
I laughed because I knew that was coming. That was just Grandpa being Grandpa. It was never about himself. No matter if he was coaching or being a parent/grandparent, he always put everyone else before himself. I admire him so much because of that very thing.
I’ll give you an example of what he meant to me and the type of man he was.
During my senior year of high school at the now-closed Elmhurst High School in Fort Wayne, we were playing for the school’s first sectional baseball championship game in eight seasons. Since it was already announced that the school was closing at the end of the school year, this was the last chance myself, my team and Elmhurst had at winning a title in any sport. It was an emotional time for all of us.
We beat the absolute mess out of Peru that night on their home field, 22-0. It was a beatdown, and one I was proud of because of the trash-talk we faced from them after the game, mostly saying that we’d lose the next game. (We beat Yorktown six days later in the regional semifinals, 6-1.)
My favorite part of that night other than hugging my parents and raising the sectional title trophy over my head after four years of trying was seeing my grandfather was in attendance. I didn’t even know he was there and he came to support me as a surprise. I was beyond happy to see him. He rarely got to watch me play, so you know it’s a big deal if he was here. That night was truly special.
The picture that myself, my father and my grandfather took together after the game makes me well up and want to cry these days, but it’s one of my favorite things I have even before he passed. Three generations of hot-headed center fielders playing the game we loved the most together. It was always my goal to make them proud playing the game. It was the best night of my life and I’m happy he was a part of it.
But, to honor my grandfather the proper way, this isn’t about me. It’s about him this time.
You loved our family more than life itself. We love you and we miss you so much already.
Thank you for everything you gave to me, our family and to this community, Grandpa. Thankful doesn’t even begin how I feel about you. Words can’t really describe your impact on what you meant to all of us.
(Oh, and one more thing. I know that the next Colts game I watch, I’ll hear that deep voice in my head about the Colts not being able to assess talent on the defensive side of the ball. I’ll miss that, too.)
Reach Michael Whitlow at email@example.com or (219) 214-4169. Follow him on Twitter @couldbelikemike.