A bond strengthened over baseball and a gesture that touched a community

This isn’t a blog entry about a Nationals winning streak, the upcoming non-waiver trade deadline or Taylor Jordan’s improved slider.

Those entries can wait. This is a blog entry about a father-son relationship that was strengthened over the Nationals and a Craigslist post that touched a portion of the D.C. baseball community.

Like in many parent-child relationships, Kent Wilson and his father Richard bonded over baseball. For years, dating back to 2005, when baseball returned to D.C. and the Nationals made RFK Stadium their home, Kent and Richard would go to games, enjoying the weather, the sport they loved and each other’s company.

A native Washingtonian, Richard and his father had done the same decades earlier, watching Senators games together. And he was determined to carry on that tradition with his son.

That became increasingly more difficult a little over a year ago. Richard was diagnosed with liver cancer last May, and was told he had 3-6 months to live. The words stung the Wilsons’ ears, but they in no way affected the way in which Richard chose to view the world.

“When we walked out of the oncologist’s office,” Kent said in a phone conversation this weekend, “and (the doctor) had just looked at the scans and basically told my dad, ‘This is kind of it,’ we got in the car and my dad said, ‘How’d you like to deliver that news all day, you know, that you’re dying of cancer?’ In that moment, he was not worried about himself, he was worried about the doctor and the things he had to do. It was just kind of indicative of his personality.”

Richard’s personality is described by Kent, one of his two sons, in the most glowing of terms.

“He was one of those guys that you instantly can feel comfortable around,” Kent said. “He was really funny, he was just really nice and generous. He would give anything to anyone. He was just an all-around great guy.”

Not wanting to waste any of his remaining time, Richard started crossing items off his bucket list. He did some traveling, taking a trip to the Grand Canyon and buying gifts for his friends and family along the way. He kept on painting, something he’d done since childhood, always giving away the paintings instead of selling them, even the large canvases that took time to paint and could’ve fetched a good monetary return.

Wilsons1.jpgAnd he watched more baseball, often with Kent.

They went to Chase Field in Phoenix. They took a trip to Target Field in Minnesota. They attended games at Nats Park, about 20 overall, including all three postseason games. The Wilsons were there for Game 4 of the National League Division Series, and they, like everyone else who was there, had a gripping bottom-of-the-ninth moment they got to share.

“I just remember when Jayson Werth hit that home run, it’s funny, because my dad would have trouble getting in and out of chairs, but when Jayson Werth hit that home run, he popped up out of his seat pretty quickly,” Kent said.

This offseason, Richard, a veteran of the United States Army Reserves and longtime employee of the U.S. House of Representatives, made the decision to purchase season tickets for the 2013 season. Holding season tickets was always something he’d wanted to be able to do, but finances had held him back.

On April 1, Richard and Kent walked into Nats Park for opening day, made their way up to Section 310, Row B, Seats 19 and 20, and plopped down in Richard’s seats, staring out over the field and the Capitol building where Richard had long worked.

“It’s amazing, because opening day can be really cold, and this opening day was actually beautiful,” Kent said. “My dad was really sensitive to the cold, as you can imagine, due to the chemotherapy. He had lost 180 pounds, and so being cold was not an option. So the fact that it was warm and we could make it was great. That was a lot of fun.”

The Wilsons only made it through two innings before needing to leave, but that mattered little.

“You don’t really think about those moments together until you realize that they’re limited, and it really was amazing to sit there,” Kent said. “His whole life, he had wanted to afford season tickets and now he kind of could, so it was a really special thing for us to hang out and watch the game, even if it was the first couple innings. To get into the seats that he could finally get was really, really great.”

On June 8, exactly 13 months after doctors told him he had 3-6 months to live, Richard passed away.

Weeks later, Kent logged onto his computer, went to Craigslist and punched up a post in the “Tickets” section of the “For Sale/Wanted” page. He posted a picture of Richard sitting in his seat at Nats Park on opening day and wrote a few brief lines.

Wilsons2.jpg“He was an amazing man, and probably the most generous person on Earth,” the post read, in part. “In honor of him and his endless generosity to others, I’m going to be giving away the rest of the season’s home Nationals tickets to friends, family, and nice strangers on Craigslist. ... If you’d like tickets for a game - completely free - shoot me a note. I would only ask that you enjoy the game and make sure the seats don’t go to waste.”

For Kent, the decision to give the tickets away, the ones his father had waited so many years to obtain, was an easy one. Thoughts of selling the tickets on StubHub or Craigslist to recoup some of the money his father had spent never entered his mind.

“When he passed, I knew it was going to be too hard to go to a game,” Kent said. “I mean, there’s just no way I could’ve sat in the seats. It would’ve been too emotionally draining. And so I gave away a few tickets to some friends after that, and then I realized ... I know my friends can afford tickets and I thought there are probably a lot of people out there who are single parents or what-have-you that probably can’t afford the tickets that would want to go. And so yeah, it was just earlier this week, I thought, ‘Gosh, it’d be nice to just give them away.’ ...

“I’m not a ticket-broker. And my dad absolutely would have given them away. He would have given them to his friends, and he would’ve given them to anyone who would have wanted them. Selling them just wasn’t in the frame of mind. Just give them away. There are people that need them who would love to go.”

Shortly after the Craigslist post went up, Kent’s inbox was flooded with emails, not just from people asking for tickets, but from people thanking him for the gesture, wanting to share their own tales of how baseball had made an impact on their family.

“The responses I got were actually really, really powerful,” Kent said. “A lot of people sent really nice notes and they just told amazing stories about their dads and how baseball is what brought them together and that sort of thing. Just a lot of moving stories. So yeah, it was really nice to give them away.”

Not only did Kent give out all eight pairs of tickets that he had originally offered up on Craigslist, but he went a step further. He traded in his season ticket-holder Red Carpet Rewards points for 10 pairs of tickets for the August 14th Nats game against the Giants, and if that ticket request gets approved by the Nationals, he’ll have given away 18 pairs of tickets total.

All in the name of trying to allow other families to have the same type of experiences Kent did with his father, experiences Kent won’t be forgetting any time soon.

“The Senators tied my dad to his dad, and the Nationals will definitely tie my dad and me together for a long time,” Kent said.

“I’ll always remember the playoff games last year. And being that when the Senators were here, they weren’t really good when my dad was growing up, getting to see a great team like that last year where the atmosphere was electric and I was sitting next to my dad, it was definitely something I will absolutely will never forget.”

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