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The Emotions of Sports: Life after death

Valencia High pitcher channels his late father on the mound

Posted: August 3, 2011 1:55 a.m.
Updated: August 3, 2011 1:55 a.m.

Valencia High pitcher Luke Soroko displays memorabilia of his late father, Mark, who died of a heart attack on March 14, 2010. Soroko pitched four days later and honors his late father with his play.

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The Soroko family lives deep in San Francisquito Canyon — a fire danger area.
That means there are the occasional evacuations.

Luke Soroko’s mother, Bella, recalls one time she told her young son to grab the one thing most important to him during an evacuation.

He grabbed his baseball cap.

The sport means that much to him.

It took on a deeper meaning when his father, Mark, died on March 14, 2010.

Mark, playing with his two boys in the family batting cage, had thrown nearly 100 pitches to them that day.

He told his oldest son, Max, who was hitting: “Last one.”

Luke stood behind his father, picking up baseballs.

Before Mark, a former UCLA pitcher who played four seasons of professional baseball in the Texas Rangers organization, could throw the final pitch, he fell over.

He suffered a fatal heart attack.

It was just a month into the high school career of Luke, a Valencia High freshman baseball player.

Just four days later, Soroko took the mound for the Valencia freshman team against Harvard-Westlake High.

“It was amazing,” says Max, who along with his mother watched his 14-year-old brother pitch. “It was kind of the first positive thing I experienced since my father passed. (Luke) seemed like a different guy out there. He was pitching with emotion. He pitched unbelievably.”

How could he summon the strength so soon after his father died?

People deal with death in different ways.

Max, then 18, was more emotional about it, Bella says.

Luke bottled it up.

“It’s pretty amazing, but I think from what I hear, kids are pretty resilient,” Bella says. “He doesn’t vocalize much about it. Doesn’t really want to talk much about it. He resembles my husband in a lot of ways. He’s the strong, silent type.

Somewhere he’s using it for the good, to make his dad proud.”

Luke pitched 4 2/3 innings, striking out 11 Harvard-Westlake batters he recalls.

He also had three hits at the plate.

“I figured he’d want me out there doing what I love,” says Luke, now 16. “It helped me get my mind off things. It was probably one of best games in my life.”

Luke says his mind was so focused on the game at hand that he didn’t think too much about his father — except after the first hit.

“It hit me — he wasn’t there,” Luke says. “My teammates helped me get through it. I was focused on the game through the rest.”

Luke gave up the game-winning run in the contest, yet he looks at the game with a joy in his voice.

That whole season, his mind was distracted by his father’s passing, but his teammates banded together to help him get through it.

For six weeks after Mark’s death, people brought over meals.

His teammates collected money for Luke and gave it to him.

This past season, Luke played for the JV Vikings.

His mother says her son channels her husband when he’s on the baseball field.

This is what he would want him to do.

Luke says his father used to sit with his boys in the jacuzzi and say if he were to die, he would want to die with a baseball in his hand.

The boys never thought that would happen.

But it did.

Bella marvels how her sons have reacted.

She marvels at how her son Luke has been able to play through the sadness and pain.

“He could have gone the opposite way — be depressed, have anger issues,” she says. “You would never know what happened to him his first season as a freshman. Always a smile on his face. ... I’d sure like to have lessons from him. Kids are like that. They’re resilient. Who knows what goes on in their mind. I’m proud of the way he’s dealing with it.”

Luke has a favorite Major Leaguer — San Francisco Giants relief pitcher Brian Wilson.

He likes his eccentricity, the big black beard and the ability to get batters out in a pinch — and like Luke, Wilson’s father died when he was in high school.

Luke says he has ambitions.

One of those is to pitch for UCLA — just like dad.

“Dream school,” he says. “I want to follow in his footsteps. I’m sure he’d like me to go there.”

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