On Oct. 2, 2010, Scott McGurk got a call that would forever change his life. His son, Murray State freshman baseball player Thomas McGurk, had been killed in a car wreck on Johnny Robertson Road in Calloway County.
Thomas, a Medina, Ohio, native, received a scholarship to pitch on the ‘Breds baseball team only months before the accident.
The next day I got a call that would change my life.
I was caught completely off guard when asked to write Thomas’ story for The Murray State News last October. I mean, how do you write a story about someone dying, what we would consider, a premature death? How do you call the grieving parents and ask questions about their beloved 18-year-old son whom they will never again share a conversation or smile with?
I will never forget calling Mr. McGurk and talking with him for more than an hour. I will never forget crying with him as he told me he was angry at God for taking his son from him or how he just as quickly told me God had a plan and would bring it to completion even though he couldn’t understand.
I will never forget hearing stories of Thomas’ heroic actions as he saved five children from their burning home when he was only 16 or the stories of his consistent improvement in every sport he played before deciding to pursue baseball for the rest of his life.
Only he had no idea how short his life would be.
In his 18 years, Thomas was known for his character, hard work and favorite Bible verse – Matthew 19:26, “Through God all things are possible.” For his charming personality, discipline and always being sans shirt, weather permitting.
His dad and I have stayed in touch off and on the last year and met in person at the ‘Breds home opener in February. It was great to meet him and talk in person, but the encounter intensified my hurt for his family’s heartache.
I can’t imagine being a parent, but my mind can’t begin to fathom burying a child. Despite the sorrow the McGurks still suffer, talking with Mr. McGurk always encourages me. He is genuine about his feelings and always points back to God’s grand plan we can trust, even when we can’t understand.
Last week we spoke on the phone and the still grieving father told me he doesn’t live anymore, he simply exists.
“It’s really hard for us to get out and live,” he said. “I’m still not talking to God, still not praying – it’s still very hard for me dealing and coming to terms with it.”
Thomas was an athlete from an early age and Mr. McGurk said he remembers once driving home from work to a 3-year-old Thomas saying, “Daddy, watch,” as he scrambled up the basketball pole.
Mr. McGurk, who wears Thomas’ Phiten necklace everyday, coached his son in baseball for years but never saw him fulfill his dream of playing Division I baseball.
“I wish I’d got to see him pitch, I wish I’d got to see him wear the uniform,” he said. “But it’s amazing, those kids (on the team) still think about me and check in on me – that’s the kind of people you have there.”
A strong supporter of Murray State, Mr. McGurk said he has been overwhelmed with support from the Racer family.
“When I read your paper and see people complaining about the school and how expensive classes are and this and that, I just say, ‘Wow, you really don’t know how great of a school you have,’” he said. “Obviously things like what happened to Thomas happen all the time, every day, but not every school responds the way Murray does.”
In addition to support from faculty, ‘Breds team members and Coach Dan Skirka, Murray State gave the McGurks permission to use the school logo on Thomas’ headstone, something which touched Mr. McGurk so much he teared up talking about it.
The loving dad, who hung Thomas’ jersey in his office and carries his Murray State Racercard in his wallet, said it is still hard remembering God was in control of Thomas’ life.
“I believe it says in the Bible that God answers prayers but it’s hard to remember he doesn’t answer all prayers, and when he doesn’t answer all prayers you think, ‘Of course, he’s not going to answer the prayers for me to win the lottery,’ but I automatically and always assumed when you prayed for the safety of your family, he would answer them but then again, we don’t know his plan,” he said.
Mr. McGurk cried as he said he wasn’t done being Thomas’ father. The grieving dad said he often wonders what the rest of his son’s days would have held if he were permitted to live them.
“I’ll always remember everything he’s ever done baseball- wise, but then I start thinking about what could have been,” he said. “I wonder if we ever would have gotten a call on draft day.”
I heard the tears in his voice as he reflected on memories with his son, memories so vivid I could see them playing on the movie screen of my mind.
“I remember that smile, I remember hugging him and things we did together,” he said. “I remember vacations and stupid things he would say that we would laugh at, like when he was 6. I can still imagine his smell when you hugged him, even after a work out or when he would put on cologne like crazy. These are little things but that’s what you wind up remembering.”
The one thing that comforts the hurting father is the hope only found through a relationship with Christ, he said.
“God was Thomas’ first Father and he called Thomas back and he will do a far better job than I could to teach him,” he said last year. “It’s not easy for any of us, but something good will come and I know someone will be saved; we might not know who, but someone will and that will be more for the Lord.”
Although I never met the left-handed pitcher, I believe we would have been friends and his story is forever etched on my heart. The impact his life continues to have on mine reminds me of something his dad told me two days after his death: “I lost my son, but obviously it was God’s plan and it was his plan for his whole life,” he said. “No matter how much I don’t want to see it or admit it, God’s plan is God’s plan.”