The deaths of two 20-year-olds who grew up playing baseball on Sacramento-area fields rocked a sports community that knew them well.
Christian Savage, a pitcher/infielder who graduated from Cosumnes Oaks High School in Elk Grove and played at American River College in 2016, was killed in Dixon in an automobile collision just after 10 a.m. on Aug. 2. His Dodge Neon was crushed when it was hit by a tractor-trailer on Midway Road approaching Highway 113, according to the California Highway Patrol. He was pronounced dead at the scene. The crash is still under investigation by the CHP.
Tommy Watanabe, a pitcher who graduated from Bella Vista High School in Fair Oaks and was set to pitch on scholarship at the University of Nevada, died in his sleep in his parents’ home in Gold River on Saturday morning, according to family and friends. The cause of his death is unknown, and autopsy results could take months. Watanabe’s parents, Cindy and Steve, told CBS Sacramento that they have no idea what happened to their son. They could not be reached by The Bee.
“It’s been a bad, bad week, terrible,” said ARC coach Doug Jumelet, who knew both players. “It’s pretty sad. In every sport, people are connected. Everywhere you go, you meet someone who knows a player, who knows a player, so this definitely hits you hard.”
The last time Jumelet saw Savage was on April 1. Savage attended an ARC game at Folsom Lake College, and he cried like many around him as his best friend from Cosumnes Oaks – Donovan Palma – had his jersey retired. Palma, a pitcher for Folsom Lake, died in a head-on collision in September 2016 on his way to weightlifting sessions. He was 19.
Watanabe played two seasons at College of San Mateo; the 6-foot-3 right-hander generated recruiting interest for his fastball. He was equally known for his good cheer and love for family.
Watanabe pitched this summer for the Wenatchee AppleSox Baseball Club, a summer league for college baseball players in Washington state. Watanabe labored through a sore back and ended his season days early to return home and rest before reporting to college in Reno.
On Monday night, AppleSox players had a moment of silence as Watanabe’s No. 26 jersey lay on the mound. He was announced as the starting pitcher for the season finale.
“Just so tragic and very hard to understand,” said Matt Walbeck, a Sacramento native who played in the major leagues and is president and director of instruction for Walbeck Baseball Academy. He coached Watanabe in summer instructional leagues. He did not know Savage personally.
“It’s sad,” Walbeck said. “They’re both 20 years old, just devastating. I feel bad for the parents.
“Everyone loved Tommy. He always had a big smile. He was a great talent. He had physical strengths, a great arm, and a guy who could field, could run. He really stood out. And he was a very likeable guy, always welcoming to younger players, a leader type.”
Savage’s brother, Anthony, broke the news over the phone to Jumelet at ARC, having also played for him. They shared stories and tears.
“I know the family well, and it’s a shock,” Jumelet said. “There’s no way to handle a situation like this. We all know people who have been in accidents, who have passed away, but you’re never quite ready when it hits so close to home.”
Funeral services for Savage are pending.
A Celebration of Life for Watanabe will be held Tuesday, Aug. 15, at 5 p.m. at Orangevale Community Center Auditorium, 6826 Hazel Ave., Orangevale.