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A son’s first pitch reminds us never to forget Las Vegas shooting

Updated June 9, 2019 - 5:07 pm

He was there because his new condo had yet to be connected with Wi-Fi, but it had grown late and he had grown tired and his old bed from high school was calling.

When she came home a few hours later and laid next to him, wrapping her son in a mother’s loving and unyielding embrace, he was in that state of threshold consciousness, half-asleep, half-awake, not having yet fully completed the transition.

“I knew she was there, but didn’t say anything,” said Kaden Manczuk. “It was weird. I remember thinking, ‘I’m 23 and she’s holding me like she hasn’t done since I was 14.’ She stayed like that for 30 minutes, just hugging me. We never spoke.

“It was as if she knew.

“I woke up the next morning, went to play volleyball and never saw her again.”

He encounters folks all the time now who don’t remember right away. At least not the date. He mentions the Route 91 Harvest festival shooting, the massacre at the feet of Mandalay Bay, the nightmare that forever blemished how history will chronicle Las Vegas, the 58 dead, the catastrophe in 2017 that took his mother from himself and two younger brothers, and there is inevitably a pause.

Oh, yes.

That horrible night of 1 October.

Most of us are left with mere snapshots, moments, brief cues that cause all those neurons to drift into action and remind us what happened. Even the most important of hashtags have a tendency to fade. Even a message such as #neverforget is, well, often forgotten.

Nobody is to blame. It’s the natural progression of things.

The sun rises. Morning comes. Life advances. There isn’t a choice. In the minuscule world from which many attach so much importance — sports are just a bug on the windshield of our existence, no, really — there is always another game, another playoff race, another questionable call over which to implode.

(See Knights, Golden.)

But then on a beautiful June night at an equally picturesque Las Vegas Ballpark, the son throws out a first pitch before an Aviators game to a player from the opposing team who happened to also be at that fateful concert and those neurons begin firing all over.

That’s a good thing.

It’s still sad and infuriating and senseless, and yet absolutely returns to perspective any hockey loss or which billionaire should be awarded a Major League Soccer franchise or if a local college sports program can finally get from under itself in football and men’s basketball long enough to win something.

Manczuk understands. He gets it. But he will also live every day with thoughts of his mother, Neysa Tonks, gone at 46, and in his own way strive to keep her and all others who perished somewhere not completely lost from our thoughts.

He and a roommate have produced a documentary titled “58 Strong” as a way to promote love and kindness in the world.

Whether it be 58 hugs to those outside a Golden Knights game, or handing out 58 roses, or buying coffee for strangers, it’s his hope such small acts and the movie (scheduled to be released around the second anniversary of the shooting) reminds us about that hashtag.

She was a ‘firecracker’

“It’s about teaching behaviors, about having love and kindness in our hearts, because if you do, how could you ever do something like (the shooting) to other people?” Manczuk said. “Love each other. Support each other.

“I miss my mom’s sense of humor. Man, she was a firecracker. I could tell her anything and not be judged. She kept it real. It’s tough not having that person any more.”

He also speaks on behalf of the Children of the 58 scholarship, a fund established to provide college money to the school-age children of those who died in the shooting.

Life doesn’t stop. We know that. But maybe it’s also true that if anything won’t let us forget, it’s how something made us feel. Maybe we just need a few more first pitches, followed by a son remembering a night when he began calling his mother’s cellphone …

“She didn’t answer the first time,” Manczuk said. “She didn’t answer the second time. On the third, a woman picked up and said, ‘My husband has been shot and is going into surgery. I have no idea who you are. I picked up 10 other cellphones in a field full of blood’ …

“I’m really glad we had that time together a few nights earlier. For whatever reason, she just laid down and hugged me.”

Let’s live, is right. It’s the best option available.

And if at all possible, do so without ever forgetting.

Contact columnist Ed Graney at egraney@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4618. He can be heard on “The Press Box,” ESPN Radio 100.9 FM and 1100 AM, from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. Monday through Friday. Follow @edgraney on Twitter.

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