As soon as I sat down with Cole Wessling, I knew I was talking to a man.
Wessling — an 18-year-old standout center fielder at Guyer — had just lost his biggest supporter, his father, to a heart attack on January 23. I couldn’t imagine what it’s like to be so young and have to deal with the loss of a loved one — especially your dad. But Cole was as strong as I’ve ever seen anyone.
In fact, it was Cole and his mom who reached out to me. I had heard of Chris Wessling’s passing a few weeks earlier, but had never met Cole and didn’t know quite how to approach the topic. In my 16 years as a reporter, I hadn’t touched on death. But as it turns out, Chris was an avid reader of Allen Publishing Co. — even my weekly rants. Telling this story was something his wife, Mary, thought Chris would want.
Cole invited me out onto the patio of their Lantana home, and as he grabbed a chair I created some small talk by telling him how impressed I was with the patio. Cole bragged on how he and his dad laid the stone floor together. I could tell he felt comfortable sitting out there; he had done plenty of that over the last few weeks trying to wrap his brain around what happened.
Chris took a job at Open Sky Media in San Antonio as a publisher for San Antonio Magazine last October and would commute home for the weekends. According to the family, Chris finished a morning workout at a gym and was washing up for work when he fell ill. By the time he was found, it was too late.
I could tell Cole was fighting back the tears as he spoke. He said he wished he could of had one more chance to see his dad before he died. The consummate family man died on his daughter Morgan’s 14th birthday and five days after his oldest daughter Lexi’s 20th birthday. Cole turned 18 on Feb. 14.
As we talked, Cole pointed to a pitching mound on the other side of the backyard. Chris built it six years ago and would sit on a bucket to catch for Cole every chance he could. Cole was admittedly never the best pitcher, so most of his throws would catch Chris right in the shin. Cole always marveled at how his dad, despite being bruised and battered, always kept on playing.
There were thousands upon thousands of memories Cole had of Chris, but that was his favorite.
The two were inseparable, and while Chris never pushed baseball, he coached Cole throughout little league. It was common for them to sit down after a game and dissect what happened — good or bad.
Chris continued to praise his dad.
He talked about how his dad was a writer, and though he worked extremely hard, he never missed a chance to put his family first. On more than one occasion, Chris’ job would take him to places like Rome and London — but he always used it as a family vacation. Cole told me it could have been easier for his dad to leave the family behind and sit there alone with his laptop to write another compelling story. But that thought never entered Chris’ mind. His latest job meant he would have to work in San Antonio during the work week, but he always made the weekend commute back to their Lantana home.
Quite simply, he was the sort of man Cole dreamt of being one day.
Cole never broke down in that interview, though I could tell he wanted to so desperately. I couldn’t help but think about how lucky I was to have my dad coach me and teach me how to be a man. Losing him now, or even back then, would have been unbearable and I may not have handled it the same as Cole.
I also thought of my own boys, particularly my oldest, Christian. I thought about all the times I found the time to play catch with him; but I also thought about the times I pushed it off to get just one more story done before deadline. I realized then that you never do get those moments back, so it was up to me to make the most of them. After all, I wanted my boys to have the same fond memories of me that I still have for my dad and that Cole has for his.
As I shook his hand, I thanked Cole for allowing me to hear his story and stressed how impressed I was with his strength. Despite the circumstances, he grew so much. His father would have been proud.
Until next time, I’ll see you on the sidelines.