As a budding journalist I was taught the inverted pyramid; that is, structuring a story so that the most important events are first in a piece, with secondary, less important information coming in descending order.
In some ways, my life follows that concept.
And before I get started, a disclaimer: These are the events as have been pieced together in my 27-year-old mind. I cannot attest to their 100 percent accuracy, but that they’re retold with the best my memory has to offer via second-hand information and my life experiences.
It doesn’t happen much anymore to my knowledge, but I was the child of a coerced marriage. That is, my parents got pregnant with me and were pressured into getting married.
It didn’t work; it rarely does.
My mom was a 17-year-old high school senior to-be, and my dad an early twenty-something who was either a truck driver or some sort of manual laborer. He’s still a part of my life, but I’m just not quite sure how old he is or what he did back then.
But after three kids in three-ish years, my parents divorced. We moved out of the ‘Big House’ east of town into a small shanty at 305 Main Ave in tiny Roseau, Minn. We were two doors down from my maternal grandparents, separated by one yellow house boasting roughly a million Hendrickson grandkids. I think the grandpa committed suicide, but I’m not sure. Memories that far back are a bit fuzzy.
I recall a time my dad — wow, I haven’t called anyone dad in nearly 20 years; more on that later — asked me if I thought he and my mom should get back together. I said yes, but I was three. Make no mistake, I didn’t feel manipulated; I just didn’t know any better. But it wasn’t to be.
It must have been sometime in 1990 that I remember opening the door for a man I’d never seen before. Outside stood a slight, almost gangly — if a short man can be gangly — man who asked to see my mother. Who was this guy? Little did I know I’d be meeting one of the most important people in my life.
His name was Scott Warne. And if it’s confusing that my last name is Warne, well, here’s the deal: He was my mom’s boyfriend, and they were married the next spring. I’m almost positive it was May 25, 1991, about three months before I started kindergarten.
I started kindergarten as Brandon Losse, a five-year old know-nothing with a new baby brother, a new trailer house to live in — I recall a sign in the window saying $7,000 when we checked it out as a family beforehand — and a new daddy. That new daddy would adopt me, and sometime during that school year I became Brandon Warne.
Scott adopted me, and called me his own. I learned later that my maternal father — I was no longer allowed to call him dad, and I suppose for good reason — had paid for the adoption process, so that the three Losses and one Warne would become a family of four Warne children. Years later my father confided in my sister, and told her that he only did it because he wanted us to all be one family — without him, that is — and that he felt it was right. To me it matters not; I hold no grudge and understand that the decisions we make at different points in life in no way reflect how we feel later on. He’ll never be my ‘dad’ again, but neither will anyone else. He’s still someone I trust and respect.
I’ll admit I foreshadowed a bit. A fifth Warne child was born in December 1993, and a sixth was on the way in the summer of 1994. Well, I didn’t know that yet.
Sunday, July 17 is a day I’ll never forget.
My memory of the time surrounding that day is so hazy, but yet so vivid. The county fair was in town, and had wrapped up Saturday night. I spent that Saturday night at a friend’s house; we’ve since lost touch and he’s experienced more trauma in his life than I can even imagine. We watched Saturday Night Live before we went to sleep — an odd thing for an eight-year-old to do, I’ll admit — and in the morning I awoke and walked the 50 or so paces home from my friend’s place to ours.
My little sister had left the night before with my grandparents, and we were headed to join them at a cousin’s lake place for a nice Sunday getaway. The last thing I remember was sitting in the IGA grocery store parking lot, watching with my brothers as the semi trucks carrying the fair rides headed west out of town to the next county and the next fair.
I woke up a few days later in a hospital bed, and I thank my Lord Jesus Christ I don’t remember anything in between.
I fell asleep in the far back, right side of our 1986 tan Dodge Minivan early into the drive. Somewhere near Gatzke, a woman ran a stop sign and rammed our van broadside. My stepdad’s neck was broken. He was dead. He was 24. In a final act of heroism, he leaned over my infant brother — minivans had bench seating up front back then — and mom to try protect them.
By my estimation, he died in my mom’s arms. My pregnant mom’s arms.
The middle seat on the driver’s side, for some reason or another, was left empty. My sister would have sat there had she not left the night before with Scott’s parents. She’d have died, according to all my adult relatives who knew. To the right, my brother Taylor was thrown clear from the car. He was not wearing a seatbelt, and landed in a position that can only be described as the way a child falls asleep with their hind end up in the air. He broke his legs, and was doomed to a few months in a hard cast with his legs stuck in that very position. He also had a collapsed lung.
That left the older two boys, myself and my brother Cody in the back. Cody was on the driver’s side, and also suffered a broken neck. By some act of God, there was a woman on the scene who performed CPR and kept him alive. I think her name was Charlotte, or maybe Charlene, but I can’t remember for sure. Now 25, my brother is paralyzed from the neck down and hasn’t walked or breathed on his own in nearly 20 years. He is my best friend, and one of my heroes. I don’t see him nearly often enough.
I had my seatbelt on. And that seatbelt did some wicked damage to my intestines; I’m probably one of only a few eight-year-olds who ever had a colostomy bag. That’s some heavy shit for a kid of that age to go through. The impact left me with a broken spine, as well as scars on my wrists and forehead. I vaguely think I recall being airlifted, and am told I cursed a blue streak as they used the Jaws of Life to pry us from the car. It was probably merited.
The first image that is forever etched into my mind is when they wheeled my bed into my brother’s room down the hall from me at what was then United Hospital in Grand Forks. Compared to me, he was in really rough shape. He had a halo vest drilled into his skull for stability, a ventilator tube coming out of his windpipe, and just about every other monitoring device you could imagine making beeps and blips around his poor six-year-old frame.
I lost it. I bawled. I suspect I’d be even more emotional now nearly 20 years later, because at eight you just don’t know how to process that. Your life has changed in an instant, and nothing will ever be the same.
I don’t even think I knew I was the man of the house yet. I don’t remember anyone telling me Scott was dead. I don’t remember any pain. Physically. I think mentally I’ve tried so hard to be so strong for so long that I’ve suppressed some of that hurting. It hit me hard this last summer on the 19th anniversary, and I went into a funk for about a month. I don’t know if it was depression-related, or what exactly, but I just couldn’t snap out. After a diet change and tweaking of supplements, I’ve been able to climb out of that fog, but it was just an awful time.
I didn’t get to go to the funeral. My injuries were bad enough that I wasn’t able to go home for two weeks. They buried my dad in that time frame. I was lucky; my brother moved on from Grand Forks down to a children’s hospital in St. Paul, and didn’t get to come ‘home’ until January.
At 26, my mom was widowed with five children and a sixth on the way. If I’m not mistaken, when they buried my dad she had five children, with one 400 miles away in the hospital and two more 120 miles away. I’m 27 now, and have been married for two years with no children. And every day that I think about it, I am just floored by what it would have to be like to be my age without my wife and a house full of children.
She did the best she could. Grief has always been a part of my mom’s life. Her brother was hit and killed by a car a few years before I was born, and that was just the tip of the iceberg. It’s little surprise that she’s struggled with depression and anxiety, and if anything I’m just sorry that I couldn’t have understood how she was feeling better in the moment. I love you, mom.
If they truly do say that it takes a village to raise a child, a good portion of our little city — population roughly 2500 — helped to rally around us in our time of need. A veritable babysitter’s club paraded through the house as my mom was able to hop a business plane to see my brother on a regular basis, and I did the best an eight-year-old with a significant injury could. I changed more diapers from eight to 12 than I have since, and was able to hold down the fort while she ran to town to get food or whatever supplies our growing family needed.
In November, my sister Kali was born. I can’t imagine the sorrow of delivering a baby without the person whom helped you create it.
We were quickly outgrowing our 70’ x 14’ trailer.
But before I head too far down that road, I have to give credit to my grandparents. Each of them in their own special way has set me down the path that I’m trying so hard to stay on every day.
My maternal grandparents were so instrumental in pretty much every facet of my life. They fed us, took us to Sunday School, and provided a refuge for us when we needed it from our parents. My grandma was the quintessence of the type: a plump, warm woman who could almost pass for Vicki Lawrence’s ‘Mama’ from the 1980s sitcom “Mama’s Family.” Cancer struck her when I was a young boy — I don’t have any recollection of her not being sick — and she died when I was 10.
But in those 10 years we had together, she shaped me in ways I’m just now coming to grips with. Taking me to Sunday School instilled in me the need for a relationship with Jesus that I’d later come to fully understand.
But she also introduced me to one of my biggest loves: baseball.
We began watching the Minnesota Twins in 1993; in retrospect, the worst possible year to latch onto the franchise. I remember asking her why Pat Meares, the Twins shortstop and No. 9 hitter, never got to bat in the first inning. In gym class, everyone got to bat every inning, my second grade mind reasoned.
From there the interest blossomed into love, and into an infatuation. I became baseball obsessed. As my grandma withered away through the 1996 summer, I recall telling her in her nearly comatose state how great of a season Chuck Knoblauch was having, as I fed her grilled cheese in her dark hospital room. I didn’t know how else to deal. I’ll never forget those days.
Gram passed in early September that year. My grandpa and I took a van trip to the Twin Cities a year or so later, and I still recall how much he told me he missed her. Grandpa remarried a couple years later, and still remains one of the most instrumental people in my continued upbringing. As he ages well into his 70s, I wish I lived closer.
Just two weeks after my grandma passed, my mom had another life-altering experience. This time, it was a good one.
It was at least a year after my dad died that my mom started seeing a man named Gary. Gary had been married before and had his own son whom we’d grow to call our brother, eventually. He and mom dated for some time, and at one time I remember calling him ‘future dad’ in one of our jokes that we had together. He asked me how I felt about that, and I’m pretty sure my 10-year-old self gave him my blessing. On Sept. 21, 1996, Gary and my mom were married.
Gary turned out to be very instrumental in my coming of age. He got me my very first job, and in a lot of ways — both directly and indirectly — I learned how to be a man from him. For some reason I just can’t call him dad, but other than the title he completely fit the bill.
I didn’t figure out until much later — far too much later, to be honest — that my mom was pregnant each time she got married. Nonetheless, she gave birth to my littlest sister DyAnna in the spring of 1997, and promptly decided that seven kids was enough.
It was right around that time that my paralyzed brother started developing some health issues. Of course, not being able to move one’s body brings about an entire set of issues, but for some reason he seemed to find trouble at just about every stop. For a long stretch he was just miserable, and that culminated with him going into cardiac arrest twice in the span of a week — once at home, once in the hospital. He was airlifted out of the local hospital to the Twin Cities, where he spent considerable time recuperating. Another time a couple years later, he had an elective procedure done to help stabilize his condition; the surgery had unintended side effects, and he spent an extended period time in a medically-induced coma with the potential of death for quite some time.
So to say my family life heading into high school was tumultuous might be an understatement. I felt I was the typical high schooler, though. I played sports. I ran with a crew of not particularly smart guys, but kept my nose clean. I even took my first job at the grocery store that my step-dad was manager of at age 14. At 27, I’ve been in the workforce for nearly half my life.
I took on the role of the guy who went along to get along. I worked on weekends, pretty much never went out, and only really had sports and youth group to look forward to. But through youth group, I met a person who’d forever shape my life: Nate Johnson.
It’s sort of funny how people can come into and out of your life, and at the time it just feels like they’re passing through. But years later, when you step back, you realize what sort of impact they had on your life. Nate was an early 20-something with a zest for life that was as vibrant as his bright orange hair. He was always up for breadsticks at Pizza Hut, kicking field goals on Candystand, or hanging out at a JV hockey game. I don’t think he ever said no to whatever scheme my pals and I cooked up.
Nate was only in our small town for two years, but towards the end of that second year, he helped me understand what it meant to be a Christian, and he helped me pray the prayer of acceptance of Jesus as my savior. And even though it didn’t immediately click in my mind what it meant, at that point I knew I was saved.
I continued to basically float through junior high into high school, working every weekend, getting good grades, and more or less being a good kid. Sophomore year, my physics teacher Mr. Miller impressed upon us the need to start thinking about our futures. To that end, I worked pretty hard in school, got onto the National Honor Society, and started thinking about what I wanted to do for a career. I thought maybe dentistry or optometry, but wasn’t totally sure. That was one thing about me in my younger years though; I had a strong respect for the advice that I got from authority figures. It’s almost a 180 degree shift from the skepticism I meet everything with now as an adult.
Junior year was a tumultuous one for me. In football, we lost in the state quarterfinal on our own frozen field. In baseball, I began the year as the starting DH for the varsity team, and ended it struggling to get regular playing time on JV. None of that would matter much in the large picture.
Early in the baseball season, one of my teammates died. He was one of my classmates, a well-liked guy named Bruce Wiskow. He had dropped his girlfriend off very early Sunday morning, and apparently fell asleep at the wheel as he drove to where he was supposed to stay. He was thrown from his truck, which landed on top of him and ultimately killed him.
The next Monday at early-morning baseball practice, we all sat in a stunned silence. We had no idea how to cope with our loss. A teammate and friend with whom I’ve since lost touch lifted his shirt and showed us a bruise on his left oblique. “Bruce gave me this,” he said, almost eerily. He’d been hit by a pitch thrown by our friend at his last practice on Friday, and still had the mark to show for it.
Bruce’s funeral wasn’t the last that we’d hold at the high school that spring. Six weeks later on a Saturday evening, a car with one boy from a nearby school and two of my high school classmates hit loose gravel north and east of Roseau and lost control before landing in a field. The boy and my classmate Amanda Ostby were killed; my friend Dustin Wyberg suffered severe brain damage which persists to this day.
It was from his house I walked home on that fateful July day, less than a decade before.
Senior year was significantly less memorable. Our football season was met with an unexpected and abrupt end due to a senior captain’s misdeeds, and our baseball team — of which I was a captain — lost in the section championship. I struck out swinging on a high fastball to end the season, and my high school career. It was a fitting end; I didn’t play in the playoffs at all, except for that at bat.
For all the preparing I had done in high school thinking about my future, the concept terrified me. I had no idea how to get college plans set up, or how to get financial aid. Even though I had been accepted to two colleges — Bemidji State and University of North Dakota — I hadn’t done any legwork to actually get myself in position to attend.
In late June I went to Bible Camp as I had for the previous six or seven summers, but this time was different. The counselors every year had come from a bible college in Minneapolis called AFLBS, which was essentially a long acronym for a Free Lutheran Bible College. For some reason the counselors got my attention, and encouraged me to apply to the school. The day I got home, I told my mom I was going to apply, and if I was accepted, that’s where I’d be going. She was rightfully skeptical, but I just felt right about it. I got my acceptance letter, got caught up on my immunizations, and in early September, I moved to Plymouth, Minn. to begin my college career.
I might be the only person in the history of college to never set foot on the campus before deciding to attend it.
The two years at AFLBS were largely nondescript. I met at least one person who would factor hugely into my future life, and I learned a lot about myself and my faith, but I don’t think I took from it as the school would have liked. I made friends playing soccer, and lost them playing softball. As it turns out I’m a bit competitive. Such is life.
As a brief aside, this is where my other grandparents come into play. My paternal grandfather had a heart attack and died during my first year of college. I never got to know him well, in light of my parents’ divorce and his separation from my grandmother. I know that at times he could be mean as a snake, but he had a soft side for young children and was generally good to me as a young boy. My grandmother helped support me financially through my first college go-round, and has been arguably equally instrumental in the development of my faith. Above all, I know how much she cares.
After graduation, I got my first very own place in the real world; a few buddies and I rented my cousin’s second house. I spent the year working to pay off my previous schooling, working a couple jobs and getting my affairs in order.
In the fall of 2007, I enrolled at what was then Northwestern College in St. Paul, Minn. I was torn between Journalism and Kinesiology. Ultimately, I decided to go with Kinesiology. About a month before school started I decided to start working a second job: overnights at a fitness center as a janitor. I had the bright idea that I’d work midnight to seven, drive 25 miles to class from nine to three, go to baseball practice from three to six, and sleep from six-thirty to midnight before starting it all over again. Then, on weekends, I’d work at my other job.
That lasted approximately three weeks, as I fell behind in all my classes and slept 15 hours at a time on my rare days off. But that work ethic is something that I want to characterize me; I want to work hard to provide for myself (at the time) and my family (now).
Finances in college were a struggle. I played a year of college baseball before realizing it just wasn’t going to be financially viable to do going forward. I worked late nights at one job, evenings at the other, and had to find a way to do homework — usually at two in the morning — and pay my $400 share of the rent.
I graduated college with $70,000 in school debt, roughly $15,000 in credit card debt, and no career prospects. Three years later, I have about $65,000 in school debt, $2,000 on cards, and solid, if unsure career prospects.
But life isn’t all bad. During my second year of college, a friend invited me out to a local hotspot called the “Sunshine Factory” on Halloween night. While there, he decided to call a girl he knew named Mandi to see if she wanted to come hang with our group of guys.
Against her better judgment, she obliged. I knew of Mandi from our previous days at AFLBS; at that time, she was engaged. Two years later, her engagement had fallen through and she had been encouraged by people in her life to re-immerse herself into the social scene.
We hit it off that night, as she immediately came back to the apartment to watch “The Office” with all of us. After a few dates, we became an official item.
Some 26 months later, after we watched the Super Bowl together, I dispatched our friend Robert to break into her apartment and onto her balcony. And on the eve of her 25th birthday, while Robert snapped pictures from the fourth floor above, I asked Mandi to be my wife. She teared up, cried, and nodded. I don’t think she ever actually said the word ‘yes’.
Six months — to the day — later we were married at Northwestern, and I moved in with her to that same apartment where I proposed. We still live there now.
I can’t imagine life without her. We have our bumps and bruises, our scars and our issues. But I know for sure that I wouldn’t want to spend the rest of my life with anyone else.
She is an amazing support system for me, and that applies in multiple ways. I’ve worked at the same day job for eight years now; I manage a UPS Store in the Twin Cities area in addition to all the writing I’ve done. I don’t love the job, but it’s all I can do that allows me the flexibility to pursue my true passion: sportswriting.
I said before that I had settled on Kinesiology at Northwestern. Well, when I showed up for orientation, I was told to go with the Journalism group. I had just worked an overnight, and figuring it to be too much work to put up a fight, decided then and there that I would become a journalist, I guess. Ultimately, that was a $70,000 decision that boiled down to “Oh well.” It still blows my mind.
My sportswriting career took off when an internet friend told me I should apply for an internship with Baseball Prospectus — a big player in the sabermetric community. On a whim I had purchased the 2005 copy of their annual, and after reading it I told myself I’d one day work in that field.
I got the internship, and took on any and all work they could throw at me. I edited, I transcribed, and I even wrote when they gave me the chance. My writing was terrible, but it was a start. When my editor-in-chief and primary confidant John Perrotto was re-assigned, I saw the writing on the wall. I jumped ship to Fangraphs, where I still write as a weekly columnist on their Rotographs website.
Late in my time with Prospectus in 2010, I managed to get my hands on a press pass to join the ranks of the local media at a Twins game. It was Cito Gaston’s last series as a big league manager, and I was tasked with getting some of his parting thoughts, some thoughts on the first season at Target Field from Twins players, and whatever else I could get my hands on. I was so enamored with the experience that I vowed I’d make it my career right then and there.
It wasn’t so easy. As I’ve found in the past three years, full-time media is a tough nut to crack. In fact, paid media of any type is very difficult. But I did all I could to get myself opportunities I wouldn’t have otherwise had. I found out who was in charge of the press passes, and asked nicely to see if I could come back the next year. I maintained a low profile, treated everyone as respectfully as possible, and made no waves. I said please, thanks, and sorry more than any human has. In the meantime, I’ve written and worked for more different sites than I can even remember.
It paid off. After visiting Target Field sparsely for parts of two seasons, I received an email from 1500 ESPN that they were looking for a Twins beat reporter, and they were interested in me. Me? I was floored. I said yes faster than anyone ever should. In fact, I panicked when I didn’t hear back for a few days. And then it was a few weeks more before I got confirmation. And a month more before I could tell anyone. Even then, it was on a one-month trial basis, where I’d be brought on as a regular only if it worked out.
Well, it did. I was one of only two people to attend every Twins home game this season; the other was the official scorer and one of my best friends in the press box, Stew Thornley. And while it isn’t a full-time job, nor particularly a cash cow so to speak, I feel as though my hard work has placed me in a position to get the exposure and experience I need to get where I want to be.
In my nearly 28 years on earth, I feel like I’ve experienced about as much as most people do in a lifetime. I feel energized, excited, and enthused about what the next 28 years — and hopefully 28 more after that as well — hold for me both on the professional and personal fronts.