Thursday, December 22, 2016

Remembering Stifter

Several weeks ago I was perusing my Facebook account and noticed that several of my friends from high school were all changing their profile pictures to images of themselves with another former classmate of mine named Andy Stifter.  None of them were commenting on the pictures, but it seemed odd to me that they would all change their profile pictures to images of themselves and Andy.  I later learned that Andy went missing while on his paddle board the Saturday after Thanksgiving.  He had gone out on his own to take photographs of wildlife from the water.  An immense search effort was marshaled, but to no avail, and the worst was feared.  On Tuesday of this week, 25 days after Andy disappeared, his body was spotted by an ice fisherman using an underwater camera to search for fish.  This is the second acquaintence of mine that has died in as many months.

Andy leaves behind a wife, two children, and another on the way.  I can only imagine the depth of their loss and grief, and for the little one yet to be born who will never know his or her dad.  What a tragedy.  Thankfully, a gofundme page was started and as of this writing more than $85,000 has been contributed toward Andy's family.  Although such a large amount of money can never replace Andy, I'm glad that his family is feeling the support of his friends and relatives and neighbors, and even strangers.

I first met Andy in elementary school, I think.  We became acquaintances at that time, and would go on through high school together.  Stifter was an extremely funny guy.  I wouldn't describe him as a class clown, but he was witty and just generally really funny.  I remember one semester he and I were in a class together, and it must have been either a remedial class or just a low-level class that we took to fill up credits, because I think he and I were the only ones in our grade in that class.  I do remember, though, that the class was taught by Ms. Lund, and when she would get on us for goofing off, talking, or laughing, he'd say, "Ms. Lund, we ain't causin' no ruckus!"  I guess you had to be there.  It was always a great time, and I recall looking forward to that class each day because he would crack me up.  He had a dead-pan delivery that was perfect.

But my most prominent memories of Andy are from the summer of 1993 (or was it 94?) - the summer before 7th grade.  He and I ended up on the same baseball team - the Chicago White Sox - and it was a summer to remember (I've written about some of my memories of that team here).  What I haven't mentioned before was that Andy was a huge part of that team's success.  Neither of us made the traveling team that year, but we went on to go undefeated, both in city league play and even when our coach shopped us around to traveling tournaments.  Our team - a city team - beat up on traveling teams.  We were that good.

Two things about Andy's involvement on that team stand out to me.  The first is a practice that we had.  We were scrimmaging and Andy came up to bat.  He hit a single and ran to first base.  On the next pitch he took off for second.  The catcher threw the ball down and short-hopped the covering infielder, and the ball bounced up and hit Andy right above his right eye as he was sliding into the base.  "Aaaaggh!" he cried.  "Why does this always have to happen to ME?!"  I remember him emphasizing the word "me" really loudly, and it was actually pretty funny in the moment.  He seemed more upset that he got hit in the face than hurt by it.  The next day at school - no joke - the imprint of the stitches on the ball was still visible just above his eyebrow.

Another thing I remember about Andy from that team was that he was an exceptional outfielder for a 13-14 year old kid, or however old we were back then.  Contrary to what you might think, measuring and catching a fly ball is actually very challenging.  Looks can be very deceiving, and the ball can easily change directions based on the wind or spin of the ball.  But Andy was great at it.  He would measure the ball perfectly, make a clean catch, and even put himself in position to make a throw to the infield if someone was on base.

I'll always appreciate my time with Andy, even though I haven't spoken to or seen him since graduation.  May God bless his family during this hard time.

No comments: