Saturday, June 19, 2004
A son of former Baltimore infielder Tim Hulett was drafted.
THE BALTIMORE SUN
A cell phone rings and the mind begins playing home movies. Just like that. No warning, no time to gather emotions.
One minute, former Orioles infielder Tim Hulett is stepping outside the door of his Shreveport, La., home to have dinner with his family. Then he finds out that his oldest son, Tug, has been drafted by the Texas Rangers. In a flash, a father and his four boys are in the back yard playing Wiffle ball, the years melting away.
Such a warm illusion.
"I knew he wanted to be drafted. I knew that was his dream," Hulett said last week. "He wanted to play professional baseball ever since he was in kindergarten. He once told his teacher that he was born to play baseball."
The Rangers chose second baseman Timothy Hulett Jr. -- nicknamed "Tug" after the former major league reliever Tug McGraw -- in the 14th round of the recent baseball draft.
"As a parent," his dad said, "you bask in the glory of it, as well."
You also want to hug your other children, if only they could all be together again.
The home movie keeps rolling, and Hulett sees his third son, Sam, always so rambunctious, so full of energy. Sam would have turned 18 this year, perhaps an aspiring ballplayer who might have heard his own name called on draft day.
Though Hulett did not witness the accident, which occurred July 22, 1992, in Cockeysville, Md., he can imagine Sam darting in front of a parked truck, oblivious to the car headed toward him. Sam, who was 6, suffered severe head injuries after being struck. He died the next day. No charges were filed against the driver, and the cause was listed as pedestrian error.
Local media coverage included reports of the accident and Sam's death, and continued with the funeral in Springfield, Ill., and Hulett's return to the Orioles. Hulett never blamed the driver, saying: "She wasn't speeding or being reckless. Sam just ran out in front of a car and got hit. There was also another person in the car. I feel for them. They were in shock."
Getting the call
Hulett and the Orioles were waiting out a rain delay in Chicago when word reached him in the clubhouse.
Sam and his brothers had been returning from a playground near their apartment complex and were about to cross Greenside Drive near Sorley Road. One of the boys yelled, 'Don't go,' but it was too late. In an instant, Sam was hit.
After the accident, an entire organization grieved with the Huletts. Manager Johnny Oates struggled through a two-minute briefing with reporters before lowering his head on his desk and crying.
"I remember when they sent word to the clubhouse, I was the guy who picked up the telephone," said former catcher Rick Dempsey, now the Orioles' first base coach. "I remember how devastating that was. We all felt it. You don't ever want to bury your children."
Hulett rushed to the airport and grabbed a flight to Baltimore, returning to the team 11 days later after the family held Sam's funeral in Springfield, Ill. Pitcher Rick Sutcliffe attended the service.
In a gesture of support, Cal and Kelly Ripken started the Sam Hulett Fund at Johns Hopkins Children's Center. The endowed fund, which now has more than $212,000, benefits Hopkins' pediatric intensive care unit.
"Tim was one of the best dads I know," Ripken said. "We were baseball players and we had many great baseball discussions, but I enjoyed our conversations, and his perspective on parenting, even more."
Reflecting on Sam's death, Hulett said: "I think about it often because he would be a senior in high school this year. All the Wiffle ball games in the yard, it was the four boys. Most of the memories are when they were young and we were all playing together."
A devout Christian, Hulett relied on his faith to somehow make sense of his loss.
"I don't know how people who don't believe in Jesus Christ get through situations like that, and a lot of times I don't think they do," Hulett said. "A lot of people tell my wife that it only gets worse, it never gets better, but I can honestly say our family had healing."
Hulett, 44, has made up for lost time by instructing his sons since walking away from the Rangers' Triple-A affiliate in midseason. Jeff, 16, is a sophomore catcher at Evangel Christian Academy, where Hulett was recently promoted from assistant to head coach. Joe, 20, is a sophomore catcher at McNeese State. Tug, 21, just completed his junior year at Auburn University.
Where baseball once kept them apart, it's now brought them closer.
"That comes from spending a lot of time together," Tug said. "There would be about six hours at the park, and you develop a bond. And the older I got, the more he was able to be a friend as a father rather than a father figure."