Winnipeg Goldeyes baseball manager Rick Forney hasn’t gone a day without crying since late February.
The tears help Forney cope with losing his son, David.
“It’s just become part of my routine,” Forney said. “I don’t think I will ever stop, but it helps.”
David died from sudden cardiac arrest Feb. 20 when he was found unresponsive in his dorm room at the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md.
David was 22 years old.
“Everything is difficult,” said Forney, starting his 15th season as Goldeyes manager. “I’m still in disbelief. I wake up every day thinking it’s a really bad dream. It’s just really, really hard to believe that this happened.”
Fargo will be the temporary home for Forney and his Goldeyes for the next few months due to the coronavirus pandemic. The Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks are sharing Newman Outdoor Field with Winnipeg for the shortened 60-game American Association baseball season, which started Friday, July 3.
David was the oldest of Forney’s four kids.
“I never, ever thought that I would be living through something like this,” said Forney, from Walkersville, Md. “Tomorrow is never promised to any of us so we better learn to enjoy today and start doing a better job of treating each other a little bit better than we do.”
At 6-foot-5, 305 pounds, David was a force on the football field as a standout offensive lineman for Navy with NFL aspirations. He played in 39 games in his final three seasons with the Midshipmen and was a first-team All-American Athletic Conference selection as a senior.
David was a political science major who would have graduated in late May and had been commissioned as a cryptologic warfare officer if a pro football career didn’t pan out.
“He was a great kid, never any trouble out of him as a child or a teenager,” Forney said. “A great kid, very polite, very caring, friendly. He checked all the boxes. He’s everything you’d want your kid to be.”
Forney said the night David died he was playing the “Call of Duty” video game online with his younger brother, Chris, and some Navy teammates before he had to work on a paper for school.
David was at his desk when his roommates left the room for about 10 minutes, Forney said.
“There was no sign of trouble. None,” Forney said. “He was peeling an orange and that’s where he died. When they came back into his room, they found him with his head on his desk.”
A couple hours later, around 11:30 p.m., Forney got the heartbreaking news.
“I was already asleep and in bed when my wife (Erika) woke me up and told me that David had died,” Forney said, “You’re in disbelief and in shock. Nobody is prepared for anything like this.”
David’s funeral was March 3 and he was laid to rest at the Naval Academy.
“It’s tough,” Forney said as his voice cracked with emotion. “I guess our lives are forever changed. We’re never going to get David back.”
The COVID-19 outbreak that changed daily life in the United States soon after David died added to the emotional strain for Forney.
“You just buried your kid and you’re pretty much quarantined,” he said. “You’ve got nothing but time on your hands and all you do is just think and think and think.”
Watching his three youngest kids deal with the loss was also heart-rending.
“It’s not easy to watch your kids cry because they miss their brother,” Forney said.
The Goldeyes are wearing a sticker on their batting helmets this season to honor David with the initials “DFIII” and the number “68.” David wore jersey No. 68 at Navy.
Forney made the 20-hour drive from his Maryland home to Fargo before the start of a shortened training camp, which started June 25. On the way, he passed by South Bend, Ind., where his son played football for Navy at Notre Dame Stadium during his college career.
That is one of the many positive memories on which Forney can reflect.
“He lived a good life. He got to experience a lot of stuff that most people don’t get to experience,” Forney said. “Driving past Notre Dame, we’ve been there twice to watch him play football. What an exciting experience for him and he got to do that.”
The Army-Navy football games were also unbelievable.
“The environment is electric,” Forney said. “Just a lot of good things, he was just a good kid. … He was well-loved, he’s well-missed and we’ll see him again someday.”