Yesterday, in preparation for a story we are doing on MSBL member Frank Bons, I drove to Escondido High School, where two San Diego North MSBL teams, the Giants and Frank’s team, the Sharks, were about to do battle. The game had been moved from its originally scheduled location at Carlsbad High School.
The reason it changed locations also changed my plans for the day.
Details were sketchy, but the news was that 49-year-old Fred Libertino, of Team No Fear, had collapsed at a game two weeks earlier, and subsequent testing revealed he had some kind of terminal brain disease.
He wanted to play or attend one more game with his teammates, I was told. Since Fred lives in Carlsbad, his team requested their Saturday game be moved Carlsbad High so that Fred would not have to travel far.
So, instead of heading home, I hopped in my car and raced from Escondido to Carlsbad. I don’t know Fred, but he is part of my family, my MSBL family. Having recently lost my own husband to cancer, I felt especially motivated to go to the field to meet him and his family and offer any help I could. When I arrived at the field, the game had already begun. A group of No Fear players told me that Fred was unable to come to the game, but that they had held a ceremony for him on the field before the game and had a photographer taking photos to show Fred later. The mound was graced with his uniform number, which is also his age: #49.
They also told me the disease that Fred was diagnosed with: it is Creutzfeldt–Jakob disease, a rare, degenerative brain disorder that is incurable and invariably fatal.
Steve Mata, who co-manages No Fear with his brother Tony, led me to the dugout as their game (No Fear vs. the Escondido Indians) was in progress. There I met some teammates and the photographer, Joe Bailey Noble, who is not a teammate but a friend of someone on the team. “I don’t know even know him,” the moist-eyed Joe said, referring to Fred, “but since I heard the news I can’t stop crying.” He generously agreed to let me publish some of his photos in HardBall.
Who among us has not, at some time in their life, had similar news about a loved one? Who has not seen how such news changes one’s life in an instant? Who has not felt helpless in the face of it?
All we can do is try to help in whatever way we can, even if it’s only to say that we care. I don’t know what course this story will take, but we will be publishing a story on Fred and his battle in the upcoming Fall/Holiday issue of HardBall. Stay tuned.