Baseball forever signifies father-son bond
One lasting memory occurred at a Minor League game
Donnie Veal plans to frame it one day, but for now, the No. 42 jersey lies in his home as a memento.
Veal wore it back in 2006 when, while playing with the Cubs' Class A team in Daytona, Fla., he and his teammates donned special Daytona 500 jerseys for one regular-season game.
After the game, the jerseys had been auctioned off to raise money for charity. Someone bid on and won Veal's jersey, but shortly after presented it back to the pitcher, who at the time was a 21-year-old right-hander in his second season of professional baseball.
Veal had started that game and tossed seven scoreless innings while his father, Donald Veal Sr., proudly watched from the stands. It was rare that Donald Sr. had the opportunity to watch the eldest of his two sons play, since Donnie's Minor League schedule had him playing primarily on the East Coast. Donald Sr. worked long hours as a lineman for an electric company in Arizona.
But on this day, father and son got to be together.
A little more than a year later, in November 2007, Donald Sr. died in a tragic accident, suffering a heart attack while scuba diving. He was 48. Donnie was 23.
All of a sudden, that Daytona jersey came to represent one of the last father-son moments the two shared.
Donald Sr. had been fondly known as the "the Mayor of Sierra Vista." His personality was such that when he and friends attended high school basketball games in town, everyone knew not to wait on him. He would join them at their seats well after the game had started, after he had made his rounds to say hello to everyone.
"He knew everyone in town and everyone in town knew him," said Donnie, now in his first year with the Pirates. "My friends would always tell me that when they saw him driving, he'd wave out of the car or honk the horn at them."
Donald Sr. had always been connected to the Arizona community, though never losing the southern twang he had inherited growing up in Mississippi. He volunteered as a judge for the Youth Energy Science Fair every year. He spent time on various high school booster clubs and refereed high school football and basketball games. When a hurricane hit Louisiana, Donald Sr. and some others from his electric company volunteered their time go help with recovery efforts.
|"He's got a huge soft spot for his son. He loves every minute of him. He's very protective of his son and is already planning out what sports he's going to play. I know his dad did the same thing with him."|
|-- Stephanie Krum, Donnie Veal's fiancee, on Veal|
"He was so liked by everyone in his community because he just had a personality that when people talked to him they felt like they had known him forever," said Paula Jackson, a close family friend of the Veals and a coworker of Donald Sr. "Donald was such a down-to-earth type of guy. He would always stop to try and help someone, and if he couldn't, he'd find someone that could."
The baseball and softball fields at Buena High School still reflect his legacy. Beginning in 2000, Donald Sr. dedicated two years of his time to help raise money for new fields and then aided in the construction.
Around the Veal home, Donald Sr. could be goofy when he wanted to, often wrestling with his two sons until his wife, Tanya, stepped in. But Donnie remembers him, too, as the disciplinarian, the one the boys would be sent to see if in trouble.
Donald Sr. was also the rock of the family, a status that took on a whole new meaning after Tanya passed away from stomach cancer in November 2004. Donnie was 20 at the time and away at the University of Arizona.
"Obviously, my brother and I had to lean on him for everything," Donnie said. "But it was hard on him, too. I didn't realize it really until later."
It's fitting, then, that some of Donald Sr.'s lasting words to his sons emphasized work ethic and the need to cherish everyday blessings. After the death of his wife, Donald Sr. made it a priority to live life a little bit fuller. He began traveling more, and he picked up new hobbies, scuba diving being one of them.
Donnie hadn't seen his father too often in the years after his mother passed because of how far away he played. In addition to his trip to Daytona in 2006, Donald Sr. was able to make one trip to Tennessee the year after, when Donnie was pitching with Chicago's Double-A Smokies club.
Still, the differences in time zones and contrasting work hours made constant communication challenging.
"He tried to keep in touch with Donnie as much as he could, but he missed him a lot because they were very close," Jackson said of Donald Sr. "It was hard for him."
Jackson continues reflecting on the father-son relationship, but soon gets choked up as she recounts the events of Nov. 10. Her memories of that day are still vivid.
She remembers being at the Veal's home when one of Donnie's aunts broke the news of Donald Sr.'s death to the budding young pitcher. She remembers Donnie's instant reaction, but also how he gathered his composure to make the approximately 70-mile drive to Tucson, alone, to tell his brother.
"It was heartbreaking," Jackson said. "You want to do everything you can to help them through it, but you can't. He had to deal with a lot of things that nobody at his age probably should. He was trying to build his career and had to deal with all of this and had to be there for his younger brother."
The role of Dad now belonged to Donnie.
"It was rough," said Stephanie Krum, now Donnie's fiancée. "It was a huge shock at the time considering his mom had passed away. But his family always took care of each other, and they had instilled that in Donnie."
While trying to make a career in baseball, Veal now had to take care of matters with his father's home. A trust fund was set up since his parents did not have life insurance. His brother, then 19, needed to be supported both emotionally and financially. All of that fell on Donnie.
Sunday will mark the second Father's Day since Donald Sr. died, but it will be the first for Donnie to celebrate, not as the son, but as a father. He and Krum had their first child, Darion, last fall, less than two weeks before the first anniversary of his father's death.
Donnie jokes that not much has changed since he became a father, since he "was pretty boring to begin with." He drives a little slower. He's less likely to take risks. That's about it.
Krum, though, admits she's seen Donnie's priorities change.
"He's got a huge soft spot for his son," she said. "He loves every minute of him. He's very protective of his son and is already planning out what sports he's going to play. I know his dad did the same thing with him."
There are times, Donnie admits, when his dad's fatherly tendencies come out in him. Donald Sr.'s words will resonate with him, too.
Donnie said he looks forward to the day when Darion will be old enough to watch his Dad pitch in the Major Leagues, a father-son moment that Donnie and Donald Sr. were never able to share. But that's not to say that his father won't be with him. He has been all this time.
"He always told me that no matter what ability I have, I could always work as hard as I wanted to," Donnie said. "I've always taken that with me. You can be the most talented player, but if you don't put the work in, there is someone out there who is working harder than you.
"He always told me to work hard and my dreams would come true."
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.