A tribute to Tom Berry
Tuesday night, a friend and I decided to take in a minor league baseball game in Kannapolis.
Things are winding down, of course. The spring enthusiasm that marks the opening of a new season has long given way to the late summer melancholy of another year in the books.
The mascots don’t yuck it up as much. The yells of the between-inning pizza screams seem subdued.
Ground crew members have lost the spring in their step.
Mostly die-hards populate the seats now, looking like sprouts of grass in an old parking lot.
It was a “Two-for-One Tuesday,” so we enjoyed two tickets for the price of one. And for buying one bratwurst, I received another one free.
The weather was perfect. By the middle of the game, many fans were even wearing light jackets.
In tracking the flight of foul balls, we spied formations of geese flying overhead. And a bright moon shone like a spotlight over the back grandstand.
I’ve always found a balance and symmetry to baseball.
Innings have a top and bottom. There are left and right foul lines, an infield and outfield, a pitcher and catcher.
If you leave home by walking or running, your goal is to follow a path that brings you back home again.
I think Tom Berry had a similar balance to his life.
Berry covered hundreds of sporting contests over his 22 years with the High Point Enterprise. Our paths crossed years ago at Carolina Panthers and Atlantic Coast Conference games when I was going through a sportswriting phase.
In the decade or so since, I ran into Tom sporadically, or received updates about him through our mutual friend, Steve Phillips.
Berry always impressed me as a nose-to-the-grindstone reporter, diligent and professional, and his career accomplishments bore that out. He worked hard to support his wife, Sandy, and their three girls, Ashlyn, Rachel and Leah.
No one ó only God, his pastor said ó saw what was coming for the Berrys. Tom reported on a high school football game Aug. 21, in the middle of his busy weekend covering the Wyndham Championship in Greensboro.
By Sunday of the golf tournament, he wasn’t feeling well. By Tuesday, he was on a ventilator. Five days later, a week before his 49th birthday, he had died, unable to recover from an infection in his one remaining lung.
I attended his funeral Wednesday afternoon at Lawndale Baptist Church, whose modern sanctuary is like a concert auditorium, relying heavily on projection screens.
Images of Tom and his girls dominated the video presentation before the service. Often they showed Tom holding the girls as babies, posing with them on a porch stoop or paying serious attention to pumpkin-carving.
More than once I heard that his favorite sporting events, out of all the professional and college games he had attended, were those contests in which his girls participated.
During a period set aside for remembering, members of the audience shared stories about Tom ó little things that stayed with them.
How he took a young boy to the swimming pool one morning so the boy’s mother could work.
How even as a college student, he was willing to take his younger brother by eight years along with him to games.
How he coached Upward Basketball at Lawndale.
How he was always looking after his daughters.
Berry graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and outside of work carried a strong affection for Tar Heel teams. One man remembered Wednesday how Berry and his young son ó an ardent Duke fan ó once had an “interesting” conversation about UNC and Duke athletics.
A couple of weeks later, Berry came by their house and left the boy a Duke media guide.
Balance, you see.
The path has a way of bringing you home again.