Harrison County baseball’s unimaginable loss
BY MIKE FIELDS
CYNTHIANA — A few weeks into the high school baseball season, Harrison County has not lost a game.
But the Thorobreds don’t feel like an undefeated team.
They feel like a team that has suffered an unimaginable loss — the loss of a teammate.
Harrison County senior Brett Persinger, who had started at shortstop for the Thorobreds since he was a seventh-grader, was killed in a car accident last November. Max Ogden, another teammate, was seriously injured.
Mac Whitaker has experienced plenty of good times and bad times in 40 years as Harrison County’s baseball coach, but nothing prepared him for the tragedy that struck his team the day before Thanksgiving last fall.
Brett Persinger grew up in the Thorobreds’ program. When he was 10, he was shagging fly balls and winning over everybody with his engaging personality. His dad, Rodney, was an assistant coach.
“Knowing Brett’s family so well, and having known him since he was a little boy, what happened that day was just an unbelievable thing to try to comprehend,” Whitaker said.
That evening Harrison County’s players and several former players, along with friends of Brett and Max, gathered at the high school gym.
“We met and had fellowship together,” Whitaker said. “It was to reflect, help each other out, pray for Brett, and pray for Max’s recovery.”
Brett Persinger was exceptional at baseball.
“A tremendous defensive player,” Whitaker said. “He had a great arm, he had great range, and he had that knack for reading bounces. He’d become a really good hitter, too. He led us (with a .432 average) last year.”
Even when he was sidelined by injury or recovering from surgery, Brett was always with his team. “If we had open field in the fall, if we hit in the winter, he didn’t miss a practice, not once,” Whitaker said.
Brett Persinger was exceptional at life, too.
Active in the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, he was caring, smart and friendly.
“He always had a smile, never got down,” Whitaker said. “He never complained. He had the perfect attitude.”
“He was a person everybody wanted to be around,” said teammate Reese Asher. “He had no enemies whatsoever. He was a leader on and off the field.”
“Brett always had a positive attitude,” added teammate Nathan Fryman. “It was nice to hang around him.”
Dealing with his death hasn’t gotten any easier for his teammates over the past four months.
“Some days are bad; some days are good. But he’s always on my mind, and around my neck, too,” senior Luke Slucher said, as he showed off the dog tags he wears, one of which references Brett’s favorite bible verse.
Slucher and Asher also wear neon-green wristbands that Brett gave them. The wristbands are emblazoned with “In Jesus’ name I play”.
This winter Whitaker could tell his team was still struggling with their grief, so he called on former University of Kentucky baseball coach Keith Madison for help.
Before pre-season practice began in February, Madison, along with former major leaguer Doug Flynn, former UK basketball player Jim Andrews and UK basketball chaplain Max Appel came to Cynthiana and met with the players and their families.
“They had a good heart-to-heart about everything,” Whitaker said. “It was really neat. I’m so thankful to Keith for putting it together. It’s one of the best things I’ve ever done for our team.”
On March 6, which would have been Brett’s 19th birthday, more than 100 people gathered at the Harrison County baseball field and released balloons in his memory.
A couple weeks later, on the Thorobreds’ opening day, they honored Brett by leaving the shortstop position vacant for the first pitch of the game.
At every home game this season, one of Brett’s jerseys — he wore No. 9 — will hang outside the Harrison County dugout.
Come graduation time, when each Thorobreds’ player receives a $500 scholarship from the baseball alumni association, a Harrison County student will receive a scholarship in Brett’s name.
No thoughtful gestures can completely heal the hurt, however.
“I know that a couple kids have gone and sat at Brett’s grave for a little while,” Whitaker said. “And I had one kid tell me that he laid his head down on his desk and started crying this week. It’s just a hard thing to overcome.”
Brett’s mom, Tina, still cherishes her connection to Harrison County baseball because it was such an important part of her son’s life.
“He loved his team,” she said. “He wanted to be with them on and off the field.
“That’s why I feel like I want to be where he’d want to be. That’s why I go to the games and support my other boys. I want to be wherever he would be. These are are his brothers, our family.”
Slucher, who began playing baseball with Brett when they were 5 years old, echoed those feelings.
“Brett’s always going to be with us,” Slucher said. “He will get me through the tough times, and I’ll reflect and always share the good times with him.”
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