Standing by the plaque honoring Henry Pearson are, from left, Tony Wilhite, Betsy Wilhite, Nigel Pearson, Areta Pearson, Jon Wilhite, Mike Wilhite and Jessica Pearson. Photo by Randy Angel
Mira Costa’s baseball program had a reunion Saturday, but before its varsity team took on players of the past in the annual Alumni Game, a ceremony was held dedicating a bronze plaque in honor former captain Henry Pearson.
On April 9, 2009 Pearson, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim pitcher Nick Adenhart and Courtney Stewart were killed by a convicted drunk driver.
Fellow Mustang Jon Wilhite miraculously survived the crash and this year returned to the game he loves as an assistant varsity for head coach Cassidy Olson’s Mira Costa squad.
Sean Finnerty scores for the Alumni as the throw sails over the head of varsity catcher Brett Davis. Photo by Randy Angel
After Olson and Mira Costa Principal Dr. Ben Dale spoke, Wilhite’s father Tony and brother Mike talked about Pearson.
“I coached against Henry and he was ferocious,” Tony Wilhite recalled. “He was the kind of guy you wanted on your side because he’d have your back. If we can all learn some lessons from that crash and plan and make some better decisions then we’ll all be better because of it.”
Mike Wilhite was a close friend of Pearson’s and directed his comments to the varsity team lined up along the first base line.
“He (Henry) loved baseball as much as anyone,” Mike said. “Work hard, be a good person and learn what this game has to offer as far as teamwork, work ethic and treating people right. You guys are too young to drink, but when you turn 21, plan ahead. Take a cab when you drink because four family’s lives were very affected by all this.”
Henry Pearson’s father, Nigel thanked the Mira Costa Baseball program for its support.
Alumni first baseman Ryan Brincat dives back into second base ahead of shortstop Mateo Nieto’s throw to Robert White. Brincat was drafted by the Seattle Mariners in 2001. Photo by Randy Angel
“It’s been almost five years to the day that we stood in this same spot for Henry’s memorial service in front of hundreds of family, friends, school staff, students, members of the media and well wishers,” Nigel said. “It was that event more than anything that gave us the strength to move forward with our lives despite what seemed at the time such an unbearable loss.
“It’s so wonderful to see all the things Mira Costa Baseball is doing to keep Henry’s memory – and more important his spirit – alive in our community and witness the positive influence it has had on the youth in our community. It’s our hope this plaque will remind us all to keep that positive influence alive for many years to come.”
Jessica Pearson read from her brother Henry’s hand-written notes he had prepared before giving a talk to his Mustang teammates as captain during his senior season:
Former El Camino College All-Conference pitcher Sean Isaac hurled three shutout innings to pick up the win as the Alumni won for the second straight year. Photo by Randy Angel
Don’t give away at bats
This is the last team you’ll play on
Play for fun
Respect elder players
Better be fast or strong
You’ll give a lot to get it back once it’s over
Work hard but have fun
Respect your coaches
If you’re good enough you’ll play
Be in competition but still friends
Henry’s friend and current varsity assistant coach John “Turtle” Colin unveiled the plaque before Henry’s mother, Areta, tossed the ceremonial first pitch to Jon Wilhite, who was behind the plate where he had squatted so many times as a catcher for the Mustangs.
The first thing Wilhite did when he arrived at the field was to pick up a glove and ball and find someone to play catch with. To the delight of the crowd – and surprise to his parents Tony and Betsy – Wilhite even took a few swings during batting practice.
Shortly after the ceremony, Sean Isaac and Trevor Franklin settled into a pitchers duel, with Franklin giving up the only run through three innings on a bases loaded walk.
Varsity assistant coach Russ Kontos tags out Robert White to stop a varsity rally. Photo by Randy Angel
The Alumni broke the game open in the fourth inning with a six-run rally, highlighted by Ronnie Glunt’s three-run triple.
“I didn’t get to play all that much when I was in high school, and to come out here now and compete, play hard, and show these kids that hard work pays off is really just awesome,” Glunt said after the Alumni celebrated an 8-4 victory.
Ryan Corral got the varsity on the scoreboard in the top of the fifth, scoring on a wild pitch, but then Danny Rojas closed the Alumni scoring with his solo shot to deep left field off of Greg Whitaker. The varsity showed no quit in the sixth, scoring three times on RBIs by Robert White, Luke Jelmini and Hunter Hammerstein before alumni Mike Pursell shut down the rally. Glunt pitched a scoreless seventh to preserve Isaac’s victory.
Isaac played for El Camino the last two years and will pitch for the University of Louisiana-Lafayette next fall. Louisiana-Lafayette is currently ranked third in the nation at 30-3.
As a Mustang, Isaac batted .449 in 2011, setting the single-season record for batting average that still stands today.