A father-son relationship is one unlike any other. But what happens when tragedy strikes and the friendship is cut heartbreakinlgy short? One father went above and beyond to make sure his son's light would never go out.
Johnny MacDougall was only nine years old when he suffered an unforeseen brain aneurysm on January 11th, 2015. The episode would end his life, and leave his vast ensemble of family and friends shocked and heartbroken.
Born on December 6th, 2005 at Memorial West Hospital in Pembroke Pines, Florida, Johnny was known for his inquisitiveness for the world around him, kind nature and, more notably, his passion for baseball.
Johnny played for three teams in the Weston Area Little League and looked up to his three favorite players: Giancarlo Stanton, Emilio Bonafacio, and Josh Johnson.
From the time he was old enough to watch a game, Johnny had shared an acute passion for baseball with his father, Dave. Before Johnny's unexpected passing, the two had made a pact to visit every MLB stadium together as father and son. Dave MacDougall figured he had years embark on this journey with his son.
As one would expect, his son's unanticipated passing was difficult for Dave, along with the rest of his family. Following Johnny's death, Dave was plagued with many tears, heartache, and a surplus of sleepless nights. However, Dave's posthumous symptoms may have been a blessing in disguise. Upon night after restless night full of thoughts filled of his late son, the idea of a father and son trip crept back into his mind. "I realized that there were so many things we were supposed to do together; seeing baseball parks together seemed rather trivial, but it was a passion we both shared and the theme just fit. We connected so well during all of the games we enjoyed," says Dave. "It hit me then that I would find a way to see those parks and to scatter his ashes at all of the ballpark’s because a promise is a promise and that is one that I intend on keeping."
With the support of friends and family, Dave set out to make his promise a reality. On Opening Day 2015, Dave, his father Warren, his brother Steve, and his girlfriend Kristen spread the first of Johnny's ashes in Miami, Florida home of the Marlins -- Johnny's favorite team.
Humbled and encouraged by the first ceremony, Dave and his younger son Tommy set out to spread Johnny's ashes at three more ballparks for the 2015 season. School and work posed scheduling difficulties. However, the pair managed to attend a Reds game in Cincinnati, an Indians game in Cleveland, and a Pirates game in Pittsburgh. The first trip covered 2,390 miles over 18 days in 10 states. Johnny's ashes were spread during the seventh inning stretch as the crowd sings "Take Me Out To the Ball Game"; a tradition in every ball park across America. In each park the young boys ashes were spread from third base, Johnny's favorite position to play.
The final stretch of the 2016 trip would take them back across the country to their home state of Florida. Tommy and Dave headed toward Coors field in Denver, Colorado where they met up with a friend of Tommy's and his dad for another game. After a quick amusement park trip and more hours of driving, the father and son arrived in St. Louis to see the Cardinals host the Brewers for the final game of their trip.
From 2015-2016 Tommy and Dave visited 16 MLB parks, leaving a little piece of Johnny in each one. The trip wasn't always easy, but the memory of Johnny kept the two going."Life can be like baseball," Dave says. "Lessons can be learned, comparisons made, memories created." And the pair is not finished making memories yet.
The father and son plan to venture out again on two trips over the next two years to see the rest of the ballparks across the country.
"We never missed an opening day and we never will," says Dave, "And I will always buy a seat for Johnny."
While I didn't know Johnny personally, I knew some of his family and I know he was a very special and kind soul. Some people come into this world to teach and some come to learn. Perhaps Johnny came into this world to teach us that no matter how long we walk this Earth, a piece of us will always be left in the places and hearts of the things we loved the most. Maybe it's not always about how long we spend here, but rather the mark we leave on those around us.
Stay Golden, Kayla
To learn even more about the MacDougall family or donate to make Dave and Tommy's next trip possible, visit http://www.johnnyballpark.com/home.html