Baseball is the easy part, a reprieve from the reminders of real life.
Davis High School is trying to comprehend another loss to its baseball family. Nancy Hatamiya, the mother of Blue Devils senior catcher and team captain George Hatamiya, died of lung cancer Tuesday. She was 52.
A one-time advisory council aid to President Bill Clinton and Vice President Al Gore, Nancy attended most of her son's games, ignoring suggestions that she rest at home.
When George Hatamiya led off Thursday's Sac-Joaquin Section Division I North playoff game against Oak Ridge with a single, he patted his heart.
When he scored the first run of Davis' 5-2 victory, Hatamiya recalled her last-hour plea that he continue to achieve.
Every time Davis pitcher Ben Eckels struck out an Oak Ridge batter 12 in all he thought of Hatamiya and Scott Heinig, the Blue Devils pitching coach who died just over a year ago at age 22. Eckels has Heinig's jersey No. 22 stitched into the back of his hat.
Heinig was not just a coach to Eckles, but also a mentor and friend. Heinig would raise his eyebrows if Eckels didn't finish his homework in the dugout before a practice.
Death is a lot for teenagers to handle, and the Blue Devils are dealing with it by competing.
"You get the scope of real life here, with what we've gone through," George Hatamiya said after Thursday's game at Sacramento City College, looking upward to compose himself. "Something allows us to fight adversity. My mom loved watching us play. We were her team. She was a role model for so many, especially to my older brother (Jon) and me. She talked about education, music, sports. Wanted the best for us."
After a moment of reflection, he continued.
"We were worried about Mom, and there she was worried about us. This baseball team is my second family. I lost someone in my first family, but I need to be here for my second family, and Mom would want that, too."
Eckels said he admires the courage of Hatamiya, whom he has played baseball with since they were 8 years old.
"We need to be out here playing," Eckels said. "It's hard to lose people close to you."
Eckels' extended family also is reminded of another passing each time they attend a Davis home baseball game. The Blue Devils' scoreboard bears the name of Bobby Jones, who died in 1993 at age 18 from leukemia during his senior season. Less than a year later, Eckels was born. He never met his uncle Bobby Jones.
The Blue Devils' annual postseason team banquet includes the Bobby Jones Most Valuable Player award. It might be a co-honor this season with Eckels and Hatamiya. They may also land the John Riggins Most Inspirational honor.
Riggins was a Davis scholar-athlete and a childhood friend of Davis baseball coach Dan Ariola. A pitcher, Riggins went 6-1 for Davis in 1980, though he was even better in soccer.
Riggins and his UC Davis college sweetheart, Sabrina Gonsalves, were abducted and killed in December 1980, a case that still haunts the town of Davis.
Ariola named his son after Riggins. Now a junior, John Ariola is a Blue Devils infielder.
"Unbelievable," said coach Ariola, summarizing the sad events. "It's been a lot. It was hard to go through before, and then this last year with Heinig and George's mother "
It hasn't been easy, but baseball has been the common denominator that has helped Davis' baseball team push forward.
"Baseball really helps," Dan Ariola said. "It's their release. It's what they've played all their lives. It's what they enjoy. We have a great parent group here, too, and these players are special. You want to root for this team."