Psalm 18:39 “You armed me with strength for battle; you humbled my adversaries before me.”
A roof over my head, food in my belly, and the love of my family. Man, growing up, life was good!
And when I got into the recruitment process in high school, it was more of the same. With attention from all over, I was impressed by one school in particular though…..Vanderbilt University.
On my second visit, I just knew that’s where I belonged.
I still remember calling the coaches to tell them I wanted to be in Nashville. It was the most exciting time of my life, and a dream come true.
I thought this high point would never end.
In my first Fall on campus, I was actually so nervous at the idea of classes starting, but the idea of baseball ending everyday overpowered anything else.
Every day I was living out my dream.
And because of my excitement with baseball, I went home for winter break with the highest GPA I had ever achieved and credited with the number one prospect for the 2018 MLB draft.
Man, I felt invincible!
But in five short months, those feelings of joy turned into a tear-filled dugout after our loss in Regionals and my teammates and I devastated by a lot more than just a baseball game.
My name is Chandler Day, and this is the story of how my time at Vanderbilt turned into a lot more than just baseball.
Thursday, June 2nd, 2016- The day my life changed forever.
I woke up in my dorm room to head over to Hawkins field for our morning training session the day before we start our home regional. I’m excited, one because it’s the postseason and two, we have the rest of the day off to do whatever we want!
Immediately, my friends and I know this is the perfect day to find somewhere new to fish.
So after practice finishes up, we decide on a spot about an hour away from Nashville called Normandy Lake.
Hopping in the car with Ryan Johnson, Donny Everett, and his two best friends from back home, we all couldn’t wait to start blasting country music on the long car ride down there.
For me, I couldn’t think of a better way to spend my off time.
Not only was I getting to fish with my friends, but I loved meeting Donny’s guys from back home too. They reminded me of him exactly. The way they walked, talked, and even ate…..it was all Donny to a tee.
It brought me complete joy to meet the guys my best friend had grown up with, the people who had made him the amazing person he was today.
As we arrived at the lake, parking in a random side lot, we all couldn’t wait to get our lines in the water hoping to catch something big.
But like a lot of days fishing, thirty minutes went by and not one of us caught a thing!
There had to be another spot.
After looking around a little, Ryan and I found a bridge that would at least offer us some shade while we attempted to catch something.
But as we settled into our new spot, we were surprised when an elderly gentleman walked down the pathway behind us. In his late 60’s or early 70’s, he had long white hair and a beard, not exactly the person I was expecting to make the long trek out here.
As he struck up a conversation a few minutes later, he of course, asked us if we caught anything yet.
Unfortunately, the answer was still no.
But to our surprise, the man mentioned that he knew a spot not too far away, where he always sees fish jumping.
Well, we were open to all ideas at this point.
Ryan and I immediately grabbed Donny and his friends and headed off to find this secret spot.
There wasn’t any time to waste.
As we approached the spot, we quickly realized the man wasn’t exaggerating when he mentioned it was a steep climb down. The water was about 25 feet down a rock-filled hillside. Not the easiest walk.
But after we all slid down on our butts and assembly lined our fishing gear to the bottom, the location was well worth the effort.
Breathtaking views and not a soul in sight, this was exactly what we were hoping for to get in the right mindset for the upcoming games.
Due to the amount of fish in the area, Donny and one of his friends ventured over to the other side of the bridge and climbed down to the rock platforms beneath. We all wanted to spread out to get our fair share.
As Ryan, Donny’s friend, and I are on the rocks where we first came down, casting away, we hear a familiar voice. It is the same elderly gentleman who told us about this place no more than an hour ago.
He comes down the slope, meeting us on the rocks and starts fishing. Within minutes, he has his first fish before we’ve even got our first nibble. We couldn’t believe it.
I remember looking at Ryan after that happened saying, “How the hell did he catch a fish in five minutes when we have been down here for an hour?”
He simply replied with, “I have no idea, he must be God.”
As time goes by, the man reels in fish after fish while we combined have zero in the same time period.
I couldn’t figure it out.
As the man took off, and the weather got a little cooler, we decided it was time to pack our things up and head home ourselves to beat the oncoming storm.
But before we got out of there, Donny had the idea of swimming across the water to our side.
I wasn’t surprised at all.
It was just Donny’s personality, and no one thought anything about the length or strength of the water at all.
About halfway across, suddenly, Donny was yelling for help.
We all thought he was joking and even Ryan called him out for not being serious, as this wasn’t something to joke about.
He yelled for help again.
We all looked and wondered if he was being serious. He certainly joked around a lot and none of us wanted to jump in and get wet for the hour ride home.
But as Donny yelled for help again, I knew this time he wasn’t joking.
Taking my phone and wallet from my pocket, I swam out to him and started to push him to the rocks we were standing on. I was confused when he didn’t seem to be struggling and Ryan called out that he saw him smiling.
Man, I was pissed. I was going to have to ride home dripping wet because Donny had played another one of his jokes.
Swimming back to shore, I turned to yell something at Donny, but I didn’t see him.
He had gone under.
Exhausted from the short swim as the current was strong, Ryan turned and ran up the slope to call 911 and find some help.
Proverbs 24:10 “If you falter in a time of trouble, how small is your strength?”
Staring at the water, I still remember thinking this wasn’t real.
How could he have been lost that quickly?
Even hours later, sitting in the police station to write our reports, I couldn’t understand why this happened or why we were there to witness it helplessly on the shore.
The officers eventually announced that Donny’s body was found 12 feet from shore and 23 feet under.
It all still seemed like a blur.
Writing down the reports, it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. Trying to recall the details and the feeling that I could have saved him if I had only known he wasn’t joking, it was extremely painful.
But there was one thing said at the station that provided me peace and will stick with me forever.
“God had his mansion built in heaven, and he was ready for him to move in.”
Even if that peace only lasted a few seconds, it still gave me something to think of on the long drive back to campus.
Once back on campus, Ryan and I knew we had to go to the house of our head coach, Tim Corbin. Beating on the door and disregarding how late it already was, we waited and waited, but no one came to the door.
But after what seemed like forever, I got a call from the Coach’s wife Maggie to meet outside our team’s dorm.
Immediately we were met with hugs from Tim and Maggie as well as questions Ryan and I weren’t quite ready to answer.
As we held back tears, we waited patiently outside as Coach went in to tell the team.
I still vividly remember, moments later, as our teammate Ben Bowden bashed through the front door, sprinting with arms wide open hugging Ryan and me.
Again, even for a brief moment, I felt at peace.
But now there was another big decision to make. We had our regional game to play.
After discussing with the group, the decision was clear. We would play. Donny wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.
After two losses, we’re back where we started.
A tear-filled dugout that was about much more than just the season-ending. Finally, we had a chance to mourn the loss of a teammate, a brother, and a best friend.
Ecclesiastes 7:9 “Do not be quickly provoked in your spirit, for anger resides in the lap of fools.”
God was there- When I look back on that situation I remember being so mad at why God put me there. I’m a firm believer, so I try never to be angry with him, but I was angry because I couldn’t understand it all.
The evidence was right in front of me. Think about it, First off the elderly gentleman we met never gave us his name, he then told us about the spot up the road where the incident would take place.
The way he walked down the steep slope with ease while all of us younger guys had to crawl on our butts… This isn’t a coincidence to me.
Also, The left side of the bridge pillars is where he was catching all of the fish, is the same route Donny took when he started swimming over. He then left right before the storm started happening…
But the one that blows my mind and makes me strongly believe the man with us that day was God was Ryan’s comment about him being a God at fishing and it is that comment that still takes the wind from me today… Ryan knew all along the man was something special but we never knew it would go deeper than fishing.
Maybe I’ll never fully understand. But one thing I know, God was there all along.
Philippians 4:13 “I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”
The most tragic occurrences in our lives, we don’t always understand the reasoning behind these life-changing events. But as I look back, God put me there for a reason and he had a purpose with Donny’s life.
I share this story not only to heal the wounds I endured during this time but to share the impact that one individual had on the lives of so many others.
Every day, I try to live my life a little bit more like Donny.
Each and every single day, he brought joy and passion into everything he did, constantly always trying to find a reason to claim the glass was actually half full.
In Donny’s eyes, if you can get out of bed each day under your own power, there’s never a reason to be in a bad mood. As long as you get to attack another day, it’s your job to have a positive influence on those that surround you, on and off the field.
Now, I know I’ll never be able to replicate the way Donny touched people’s lives and you might not be able to either. But what we can do, is strive to live through Donny’s memory and go out and touch as many people’s lives as we can.
As we finish, I challenge you to try this one tactic.
Try it for a couple days, a week, a month what have you, but wake up every day with a goal to make the most out of your day and impact someone else’s.
Your happiness will increase and so will the others that surround you. With the world we live in now, all we see are acts of hatred or anger being spread.
Rarely do we see a good deed get noticed.
But if you wake up with a purpose to make a positive impact on other people’s lives like Donny did, the world will just be a little bit better……For us.
Peter 5:10 “And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered for a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.”
Chandler Day, Vanderbilt Baseball | Contributor