I fully anticipate this will be the easiest, yet most exhausting blog post I’ve ever written.
I don’t write this for any reason other than to educate; I don’t expect sympathy, a pat on the back, or anything of that nature. I simply feel that I have a story to tell, so here goes:
I think the word that best sums up my existence is accident. No, again, I don’t say this to evoke sympathy or tears from anyone, including my mom if she’s reading. My existence is just that: an accident. I was the love child, or perhaps more suitably lust child of two young people whom I don’t know would have gotten married otherwise. My understanding is that when they got pregnant, they were coerced into marriage. It didn’t work; it almost never does.
After three years and as many children, my folks called it quits. I don’t know if it was verbal abuse, falling out of love, or for whatever reason, but they just weren’t married anymore. It can be incredibly difficult to have to tell three small children, but I think we handled it pretty well.
I remember answering a knock at the door of our little house on Main Street in Roseau, Minn. some time later. A thin, short, and perhaps a bit scruffy looking young guy was at the door. Little did I know that he was there to see my mom, and that some time later he’d become my adopted dad. Scott Russell Warne. What a guy.
See, my father paid for me to be adopted by this man. I don’t pretend to know why, or how, or any of that. I do know that he told my sister that he wanted us to be a family, so he had me, my brother Cody, and my sister Kati adopted so that when Scott married my mom, we could all be together. Warne children, all three of us. (I should note that I don’t harbor any ill-will towards my father, and I think we have a very healthy relationship. Life’s too short to hold grudges, anyway.)
Well, there weren’t three for long. Scott and Mom were married in May of ’91, and my brother Taylor came along in August. Tanner wasn’t far behind in December of ’93, and before we knew it, there were five of us. It was a happy family that may have been poor in terms of real dollars, but we had all we needed.
It didn’t last long. In July of ’94, on a day I’ll never forget, we were headed to the lake to spend a Sunday afternoon with some extended family members. My sister Kati left earlier with my grandparents, leaving just the boys to ride with mom and dad. Kati and the grandparents made it; we didn’t.
Somewhere near Gatzke Minn., I understand that someone ran a stop sign or something to that effect, broadsiding us at speeds of probably at least 55-miles per hour. My stepdad Scott was killed instantly. In a move of unmatched selflessness, I was told he leaned over my infant brother Tanner and my mom to protect them. He died in my mom’s arms, at the age of 24.
My brother Taylor was behind my mom in that 80s-model Dodge Caravan. Like me, he was asleep; unlike me, he was hurled from the car, breaking his leg and collapsing a lung. Somehow, of the three older brothers, he was the most fortunate.
I was the next most fortunate. First of all, I was asleep. I don’t have a single recollection of that afternoon’s events. Nevertheless, I was wearing a lap belt, and basically had my intestines crushed. I was forced to wear a colostomy for the first three months of third grade; try explaining that to kids who are eight or nine years old. I also broke my spine, which pales in comparison to my brother’s injuries.
I don’t know the scientific explanation for what happened to Cody, but I do know this: He’s paralyzed from the neck down, and he’s lucky to have survived the crash. My understanding is that someone from a car nearby knew CPR and performed it on Cody to keep him alive. What are the odds?
The first image I recall after waking up in what was then called “United Hospital” in Grand Forks, ND, was that of my brother in his hospital bed, adorned with a halo vest and looking pretty beat up. I remember bawling my eyes out seeing him like that; he was airlifted to Gilette Children’s Hospital in St. Paul, Minn. not much longer after that.
Life didn’t get easier overnight for our little family. Mom was a widowed mother of five, and was only 26 years old. It also turned out that she was pregnant with little number six, and beautiful little girl that she gave birth to in November, Kali. She’ll be 18 this year.
Mom had a fair share of help around the house. I did what I could as an eight-year old, as I taught myself how to pick things up with my feet (still can) and was pretty adept at babysitting. Her parents, Grandma and Grandpa Shirley were also our stabilizing rocks, as they had been throughout my entire childhood. That was another wrench about to be thrown into the mix, but more on that later.
Before long, my mom began to sort of see a man named Gary. Gary was a divorced father of one whom didn’t have custody of his son, and whom helped run the biggest of the three grocery stores in town. He was stable, dependable, and perhaps best for my mom, available. They dated for quite a while and were engaged at some point too. I’m not sure when; throw me a bone, I was 10 years old back in 1996.
As their relationship began to grow closer, my grandma Diane (Shirley) began to grow sicker and sicker. Basically since I could remember, she was sick with cancer. Colon cancer was the first diagnosis I remember hearing, and she’d often go for chemotherapy and radiation at the nearby hospital. She was still a terrific person no matter what she was feeling like, and she’s by far the best woman I’ve ever met in my life.
Grandma died that September, just about three weeks before my mom and Gary were married. I remember visiting her in the hospital, feeding her grilled cheese while she was barely lucid, and telling her how great of a a season Chuck Knoblauch was having. See it was her that turned me on to baseball, so I feel like it’s partly my job to make the most of it. Nevertheless, I remember at my parents’ wedding just seeing how tired my grandpa looked. I didn’t think much of it then, but I think that’s what unconditional love looked like. He had spent the past however many years caring for a woman whose health was deteriorating before his very eyes. He’s by far the best man I’ve ever met, and I hope he’s around forever.
Life managed to get a little easier once Mom and Gary were married. They bought us a house on the north side of town, remodeled it a bit, and for the first time in life, it was home. Before long, the last of the Warne-Grondahl children was on the way, little DyAnna. She’s 14 and takes after me a bit, with baseball in her blood.
DyAnna wasn’t too old when something odd began happening with Cody. I had no idea what was going on, but neither did any of the doctor’s. He was flat-out miserable. My parents took him to specialists in the Twin Cities who said there was nothing wrong with him, and they embarked on the eight-hour ride from hell to get him home. I remember how tired my parents looked that night when they brought him home; not only were they worn out from trying to figure out what was wrong with Cody, but he had recently begun verbalizing how miserable he was in ways that weren’t imaginable. It was just a horrible situation.
Cody went into cardiac arrest that night. The nurse on duty revived him and called 911, and they ran him up to the local hospital to keep an eye on him. True to form, I slept through the hullabaloo that was going on just 10 feet outside my bedroom door.
Cody went into cardiac arrest again in the hospital a few days later. Between this, and the time he spent near-death in a medically induced coma after elective surgery in 2000, it’s sufficient to say that life hasn’t been easy for my younger brother.
After Cody got back on track, life again became relatively normal for us. At least as normal as it could be for a family of seven children, countless pets, and a half-brother in there too.
By that time, I was in junior high, floating through without a care in the world while I competed in football, baseball, and Knowledge Bowl. I even managed to snag a part-time job hustling groceries for my step-dad, who by this time ran the grocery store. That was a big step for me, because I learned a lot about responsibility from that job and from Gary especially. I like to think he shaped and molded me as a man. Maybe he doesn’t even know I thought of it that way.
Like all other kids that age, I had no idea what I wanted to do. I thought it might be cool to be a dentist, an optometrist, or something along those lines. I changed my mind just about every day.
Junior high went well and Senior High wasn’t bad either. I got good enough grades to be inducted into the Honor Society, and I played well enough in baseball to start out as a starter my junior year.
Junior year was probably the most trying of my teenage years. Really, though, it was just the spring. In early April, just as the season was getting underway, tragedy struck again. A JV teammate of mine, Bruce Wiskow, was driving back from some weekend shindig when he presumably fell asleep at the wheel. He went down into the ditch with his red pickup truck before being thrown from the vehicle, which ultimately landed on top of him. He was 17.
As a team we were the honorary pallbearers, wearing our jerseys to the ceremony and standing together outside as they drove him away. To me, it was just another tragedy in a life that hadn’t really had a shortage of them to that point.
There was little time to recover, as exactly six weeks later there was another accident. This time, two Roseau teens, Dustin Wyberg and Amanda Ostby, as well as one from neighboring Badger, Randy Brazier, were all involved in a terrible crash just west of town. Amanda and Randy both passed away as both small towns were rocked by another tragedy in the spring of 2003. Dustin survived, but is in a much-reduced mental state. He made it back to graduate with us the next spring, and I remember being so dang proud of him.
We had always been close as young kids. We grew up in the same trailer court, and in fact, I walked home from his house the morning of our accident back in ’94. He moved away, and our friendship really faded, and we weren’t exactly close when he moved back. Still, I was so happy to see him make it back to school for our senior year, and got a pretty good laugh when he took to flipping everybody off that he saw in public. That personified Dustin in a way, because he never really conformed to anyone else’s ways but his own.
Senior year went off basically without a hitch. I joined the football team late because I got the itch listening to the first game on the radio, and by the end of the year was elected an honorary captain. Baseball didn’t go as well as I’d have liked; not because the team wasn’t good, but because I was benched for reasons I never really understood. We got to within one game of the State Tournament, so it was still a pretty good run.
Not much had changed on the front of knowing what I wanted to do with my life. I was headed to the University of North Dakota to study Communications. That’s what I put in my Thank You’s that I don’t think I ever sent off anyway. Sorry, mom.
That summer I shoved off to Bible Camp as I had each summer for the past six or so. There, it became apparent to me that I didn’t really care about UND, or North Dakota, or any of that. I felt drawn to a small Bible college in Plymouth, Minn. called AFLBS. With little or no afterthought, I emailed them for an application, and 5 weeks later I moved in on a campus I’d never even so much as set foot on. I’m pretty sure I’m the only one in the school’s history that could say that.
My time at AFLBS was in many ways unremarkable. I was far too competitive for the softball league, far too fat and slow to be much of a soccer player (though I still tried), and I was not a great person, roommate, or friend. I had a lot to learn about how to conduct myself as a man, but I think I grew a lot over those two years. I also got to know a young girl named Mandi. I thought she was pretty good looking, but she was engaged and a year behind me in school, so I didn’t pay her much attention. More on that later.
After taking a year off, I enrolled at Northwestern College. I knew two things about my post-AFLBS education. I wanted a school where I’d feel comfortable, and I wanted to play baseball. I was able to do both of those things as a journalism major, though my journalism professor joked with me after one of my last classes at NWC that he always considered me a Baseball major. Who could blame him?
A few weeks into my second year at Northwestern, I was out at a local dive called “The Sunshine Factory” with a couple of buddies. One suggested that he call a few more people to join us, and one of them was the aforementioned Mandi. She had recently broken off her engagement and was just enjoying single life. I had been single a while myself, but wasn’t really looking.
It’s sort of funny though; sometimes you find what you aren’t even looking for. Mandi and I hit it off decently well off the bat. She thought I was alright looking, but a bit cocky and maybe even a jerk. I thought she was out of my league looks wise. Thought, or maybe I just knew. She didn’t seem to care much.
Nevertheless, we began to hang out more, and our first official date was to Lifetime Fitness to sit in the hot tub. It was supposed to be a group outing, but everyone else flaked leaving just Mandi and I to socialize. I’d never been in any place exclusively with someone so beautiful, and I can’t quite sum up how inferior I felt. I maybe never even told her this, but a guy told me in the steam room tonight that I had one hell of a looker with me that night, and that I better lock that down. I scoffed at him then, thinking I had no chance, but little did I know….
Mandi and I started dating on December 15, 2008. It wasn’t long afterwards that I made the difficult decision to quit baseball at Northwestern after one season. Financially, I couldn’t keep up with my bills and keep playing. It was unfortunate, as I had at least a decent shot of seeing even a little bit of playing time, maybe more.
Still, it was around this time that I really began to want to chase this dream as a sportswriter. See, I showed up to orientation at Northwestern with the idea that I’d be a Kinesiology major, and that I’d become a personal trainer. My guide for the day said that I’d been lumped with the journalism group, and I just went with it. Best non-decision of my life, I’d say.
Northwestern wasn’t particularly difficult for me. At least it shouldn’t have been. I made it much more difficult by working as many hours as possible, including starting the first year out working overnights, a day job, and trying out baseball while doing day school. Going to class on four hours of sleep just doesn’t work, and that plan was aborted about three or four weeks in.
I still worked late nights while going to Northwestern, and while it wasn’t good for my productivity, it was about the only way to survive, in addition to working evenings at the UPS Store. If life’s taught me one thing, it’s that if an able-bodied person needs something, they need to keep pushing until they reach it. For me, needing something at this point was paying my rent so I could keep going to school, so working until 2 am might not have been ideal, but it was the only way to go.
I took 24 credits in the Spring Semester of ’10 to graduate. I don’t recommend it. Still, I somehow managed to get out with my sanity intact. Graduation was a bittersweet time for me.
I graduated when I was 24. My adopted dad Scott died when he was 24. I began to think about what mortality felt like at that age, and it was impossible to comprehend. It really impressed upon me the notion that every day from that point on was a gift, and that I wouldn’t be outworked to get what I felt I deserved the rest of the way. I owed it to both Scott, and to my brother Cody to go out there and be the best at whatever I set my mind to.
With that in mind, I began helping out at a local broadcasting company, MSBN, working hard as an intern before becoming a full-fledge broadcaster with them.
I also tapped into a very obscure connection, Andrew Rothstein, who managed to get me in cahoots with Baseball Prospectus, perhaps the foremost baseball publication in the nation. I started out as an intern with them, working as hard as I could to take on every additional project, whether it was editing, transcribing, or watching video of David Ortiz fly balls, just hoping that some day it would turn into something of use.
Well, it did. Sort of. I was promoted to the position of AL Central Beat Writer prior to the 2011 season. More on that in a second.
Things with Mandi began to get pretty serious pretty fast. Before long we were pretty sure we wanted to get married, but there was a bit of consternation on my end. She had been engaged before, and I wanted to make sure it was absolutely right before we got engaged. Oh, and I was broke too.
But, on Super Bowl Sunday 2011, I got down on one knee and proposed to Mandi. I like to think she was pretty surprised, and she cried quite a bit. She even managed to nod her head. I think she meant yes, since the date is set for August 6 of this year. She’s a huge blessing in my life and my rock and stabilizing force. I love you, Mandi!
Nonetheless, things at Baseball Prospectus didn’t go quite as well as planned, but I’m still working on a handful of side projects that I’m hoping will help me parlay it into a future career. I won’t stop until it does. That’s my word to Scott, to Cody, and to all the people who ever told me I couldn’t do exactly what I was trying to.