I honestly do not know how to start this but I will try.
Many people here did not know my son on this particular forum, as he often viewed, but never commented to any degree, but for those who visit other sites, he was a well known and liked person. His name was Keith Cromer, and his own twitter description says it all: "Fantasy Baseball Writer, Baseball Prospectus, former ABC sports researcher and NJ Sports Phone announcer. Lifelong Pittsburgh Pirates fan and sports junkie ".
To say he was a lifelong Pirate fan is putting it mildly. The entire basement of his home was a "man cave" of the likes I have never seen. Three televisions were mounted on different walls with a various baseball games on each screen, but always the center screen was the Pirate's game. He and I started collecting baseball cards when he was about 12 and he continued on his entire life searching for cards. His collection isn't even describable by me as it encompassed complete collections starting back to the late 50's. Pirate signed paraphernalia adorned every wall broken up only by the occasional Pen's gear or Buffalo Bill's gear (I never could convert him to a Steeler's fan!). Andy Van Slyke was my son's idol, and his man cave had more signed articles by Andy then any other person.
He grew up in upstate NY surrounded by Met and Yankee fans, and that is where he started to become a "stat" geek defending the players that the Pirate's had compared to the Met's and Yankee's. It later would become a large part of his life. People used to think we were nuts that for vacation, we would all pack up and travel to Pittsburgh. Camping cabins were our home, Kennywood Park and the Pittsburgh Zoo were always a stop during it, but Three Rivers Stadium was our ultimate destination. We watched some victories and lamented at the losses. But the gleam in his eye the first time he saw 3 Rivers was well worth it.
After graduating from high school, he was off to Pittsburgh and enrolled at Pitt. And the first thing he did was to get a part time job so he could buy season tickets to the Pirate games. He also had his minute of TV exposure when the camera's showed him and others holding up a huge Jim Leyland banner when he was announced on opening day. Alas, 1994 was the last time he would see his beloved Pirate's live in Pittsburgh.
Keith would often complained to me that he wished I had never made him a Pirate fan as he suffered along with the rest of us through 20 years of losing, and said he would like to see the Pirate's win a World Series in his lifetime. I would then chide him that he did as he watched the 1979 World Series with me, at which time he would roll his eyes and say "Dad, I was 6 years old. How much do you think I remember?".
I have many fond memories of my son. He was a generous and kind person. When he knew that I was in love with the Bob Walk falling off of his chair bobble-head, and I asked him if he knew anyone yet in Pittsburgh that I could buy a ticket for just to get it for me, he told me "Dad, don't worry about it. I got you covered". Shortly after it came out a package arrived and there was my bobble-head which now sits proudly in my store. Keith also was the opposite to me when it came to the Pirate's. He was ever the optimist, always scolding me as we sent text message after message back and forth from 3000 miles away. "Its early yet Dad" was a refrain I heard often. And sometimes he was right.
My fondest memory will always be my trip out to NJ from Oregon in 2017, when I went out to see my son for the first time in almost 20 years. Work had kept us both apart for way to many years. And when I was diagnosed with cancer, I said enough was enough, and made the trip out. One day while there, I said "Hey Keith, I bought a new glove and a ball for this trip out, lets play some catch." He smiled and said, "Why did you buy a new glove? I still have your old one.". And he came out with it and I was shocked to see it. We then went out to the back yard, old glove in hand, and for almost an hour, we stood apart from each other, tossing the ball back and forth and started talking about issues we both had over the years with each other. Parenting isn't easy, and I guess being a kid isn't either. Over the course of that hour my son and I bonded more then we ever had, all while tossing a baseball back and forth.
But while there, I saw signs of stress with my son. We couldn't go anywhere as he worked from home and was told that he needed to be available 24/7 for calls and emails. Then this year, the stress mounted and started to overwhelm him. He had to stop writing for Baseball Prospectus,something he loved to do as he no longer had the time. He then asked the company that employed him to allow him some time off as his stress was starting to effect him physically after a medical exam showed him to have ulcers and liver problems. For 20 years he never had a vacation, and his company responded by saying no, and then increased his work load.
On October 26 I received a call from my son's best friend since his high school days, that my son had passed away from a heart attack. He was 45.
Yes I rail against the company he worked for that I feel did this to him. I am angry that my son just didn't quit his job and go elsewhere. But NCA's and a daughter in college made him stick it out. And eventually, it cost him.
But as I sit here now and type this with tears in my eyes, I think back to all the things that made Keith the biggest Pirate fan, and baseball fan, I will ever know. From his high school days of using Jim Bouton's "Ball Four" for a book report much to the angst of his teacher, to the hours he spent in the backyard trying to emulate Van Slyke's left handed swing. The mountain of knowledge he had regarding the Pirate's that he had off the top of his head for players from the sixties that I couldn't even remember. His telling me a couple of months ago that as soon as his daughter graduated from college, he was quitting his job and was going to Pittsburgh to get a job with the Pirate's, even if was just sweeping out the dugout. The only tattoo he ever had was the Pirate logo on his arm. People on Federal Street will never know what they meant to my son. I'm not sure I even can convey it here. But I needed to try.
Now, I have only the memories. And the greatest memory I have is the last phone call that I had with him a couple of weeks ago. It ended with
"I love you Dad".
This is my way of saying
"I love you too Keith".