Some athletes choose their uniform number because of a childhood idol. Others choose it for cryptic, personal reasons. Cole Webb is on the short list of those who fall into both categories.
In November of 2007, a 15-year-old Cole was unwinding on the couch, watching television with his father after a Union High School football game when the phone rang. It was The Call No Parent Ever Wants to Get. Cole’s father, Byrne, and his family were urged to get to the hospital as quickly as possible. Cole’s brother, Casey Jones, had been involved in an accident.
Casey had a reputation as a thrill-seeker, so the family remained anxiously calm as he had before been involved in a motorcycle accident.
Just a couple hours before the call, Kimberly Graham had guzzled down a six pack, two shots, and a mixed drink, then hopped into her SUV and barreled down Memorial Drive, the main drag where most of the bars are situated in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Casey and four friends were helping a fallen motorcyclist on the side of the road when she plowed her vehicle through the crowd of Good Samaritans.
Graham fled the scene. Casey was the lone member of the five struck to make it to the hospital. The injuries sustained proved too severe and the 29-year-old passed away shortly after he arrived to the emergency room.
The harsh reality didn’t set in until doctors told the Webb family that they would be going to the “visitation room” to see Casey. Only three people were allowed back in the visitation room, and when his mother, Roberta, his sister, and her friend hysterically returned to the waiting room, the shock ensued.
With the passing of a brother and a son, so went a best friend. Despite an age difference that in some families can cause friction between brothers, Cole, brother Chase (then 17), and Casey were an inseparable trio. The three did what brothers do: played football, baseball, and engaged in occasional mischief.
“Casey was a strong role model for me growing up,” Cole said.
An online memory book is abundant with tributes and anecdotes of a fun-loving guy who made friends at every turn of life, including a fiancé, Krissi.
It’s a story that rings all too familiar with the Valpo baseball family.
In November 2011, Maria Dann, then ex-wife of head coach Tracy Woodson, was killed in a lunchtime drunk-driving accident in Oxford, North Carolina. Dann, a teacher, had just left an elementary school where she worked when a 35-year old nurse crossed the center line, causing a head-on collision. Her death left Tracy’s son (and Valpo assistant men’s tennis coach), Michael, without a mother.
Three months later, shock waves reverberated throughout the Chicagoland area when news broke that a grade-school teacher was fatally stabbed in a Naperville bar. The victim was later identified as Shaun Wild, brother of Kevin, a pitcher for the Crusaders. Wild was acting as peacemaker during a skirmish inside Frankie’s Blue Room when Daniel Olaska senselessly pulled out a knife, pierced Shaun in the heart and wounded two others.
With support from the tight-knit communities of Brown Deer, Wisconsin and the Valparaiso baseball family, Shaun’s family has remained extraordinarily strong throughout the devastating ordeal. Kevin dedicated the season to his brother the best way he could – by earning the Horizon League Pitcher of the Year Award in 2012, one year after a season in which he went 2-2 with a 5.64 earned-run average.
No numbers are more important to Cole Webb than nine, though. (9C to be exact.) It’s the number Casey had painted on the side of the car he drove in sprint races.
While it’s said that time heals all wounds, some never completely heal, but scar, rather, leaving a legacy that will endure.
“Obviously we (Casey’s family) think about it every day. You still mourn it. But we also celebrate his life,” Webb said.
Kimberly Graham was found guilty on five charges of first-degree manslaughter and one count of fleeing the scene of a crime. She was sentenced to 107 years in prison.
Chase Webb completed his undergraduate degree last year at Creighton while playing baseball and is now enrolled in law school there.
Cole went on to earn a scholarship to Coffeyville Community College in Kansas. The righty went 13-6 with a 3.84 ERA in his two seasons as a Red Raven, netting him another scholarship to Valpo.
Saturday, February 16th, he stepped on the hill for the first time as a Crusader. Webb, who has quickly established himself as one of the wittier, more gregarious personalities on the club, was dominant in his debut. With pinpoint command to accompany a cutter and changeup, the junior allowed just two Ohio Bobcats to reach base over eight swift, shutout innings in Valpo’s 1-0 victory.
For an encore, he limited a nationally decorated Long Beach State team to three runs on five hits and a walk over seven innings in a tough-luck 3-2 loss this past Saturday.
Though early, it appears the Crusaders have found a torch carrier for Wild, the safe bet on many Saturdays last spring and a young man pitching for someone more than himself. Because when he takes the mound donning the number 9, it means so much more to Cole Webb than anything Ted Williams or Reggie Jackson ever accomplished. It represents Casey Jones: brother, best friend, and role model.