On any other afternoon at O’Donnell Field, that moment would have been the apex, the defining image of a season-defining day.
The sun—hidden behind a thick blanket of soggy grey clouds for the first six hours of baseball—had emerged, and was smiling down as Ian Wallace scampered home with the winning run. A cluster of red caps was there to greet him and boisterously celebrate a walk-off victory, a Sunday sweep, and a guaranteed share of the division title.
With a cascade of home runs and heroics of all kinds, Harvard had surged back from large deficits in both halves of the doubleheader, taking a pair of one-run victories—and from Dartmouth, no less.
On any other afternoon of any other season, that moment would have been the pinnacle, all that is best about Harvard baseball.
But this season had peaked six hours earlier.
At 1:15 p.m., Wes Cosgriff strode onto the grass of O’Donnell Field as Harvard coach Joe Walsh introduced him to the crowd, simply and proudly.
“We thought we had a big, 6’7 left hander to go out there and battle the Ivy League,” Walsh said over the PA system. “Well, he had a different battle, a battle with cancer. Making a triumphant return to O’Donnell Field for the first time after beating cancer is Wes Cosgriff.”
Then No. 28 stood a few feet in front of the mound he once found so familiar, and tossed out the first pitch to Sky Mann. As Cosgriff returned to the dugout—pausing to embrace teammates on the way—no one noticed the rain clouds.
When a 21-year old kid recovers from that kind of nightmare—testicular cancer that spread to his stomach and lungs—there are no clouds.
“It certainly meant a lot to our baseball family,” Walsh said, before breaking into a sly grin. “I’ll tell you what, though. I would have liked to have used him on the mound today.”
Next year, he should be able to do just that. Three weeks ago, Wes Cosgriff was declared 100 percent cancer-free.
Makes beating Dartmouth a little anticlimactic, huh?
“Before he left, he was the heart of our team,” senior Rob Wheeler said, “and he still is. To see everything he’s come through, it makes coming back to win a few Ivy games not seem like a very big deal.”
But it was a big deal for Cosgriff, who smiled easily at the day’s end and declared, “I’ve waited six months for this.”
It was a moment of rare and beautiful paradox. Harvard’s baseball games had never seemed more trivial. But its baseball team—and the human bonds that hold it together—had never seemed more important.
“This has been the greatest family you could ever hope for,” Cosgriff said. “I got phone calls every single day. I didn’t go a single day without talking to these guys.”
After Harvard took three of four from Yale at O’Donnell two weeks ago, Walsh didn’t want to talk about the big wins or how the Ivy race was shaping up. He wanted to talk about Wes, about what an amazing man he is, about his miracle recovery.
When the Crimson clinched its first Beanpot title in a decade with a win over Northeastern, and Mann was presented the trophy, the captain held it up in the air and proclaimed to anyone within earshot, “This is for Wes.”
At every moment of triumph, he seemed to be the topic of conversation, so it was singularly appropriate that on a day like yesterday—the most triumphant day of the season—he was there, watching every lead-changing home run from the third base dugout.
“This was probably the worst thing for my health, watching these games,” Cosgriff joked after Harvard scored two runs in the bottom of the ninth to take Game 2. “It was amazing.”
The truth is, it would have been amazing regardless.
Moments after Cosgriff walked off the mound, he was replaced by Frank Herrmann, who gutted his way through one of his rougher outings of the season. But after the game, he was beaming.
“I told him, kind of joking around, that I’ve pitched my two worst games of the season when he was there,” Herrmann said, smiling. “I told him he’s a jinx, but that it’s okay, because I’d rather have him here and pitch crappy than pitch good without him here.”
Yesterday, wasn’t about wins, runs, or anything else you can count.
It was about the return of a teammate.
“It was going to be a good day no matter what,” Walsh said.
And it was.
Welcome back, Wes.
—Staff writer Lande A. Spottswood can be reached at email@example.com.