Sports

Standing tall on Pitt Field, Jason Gibbs, 6, threw out the first pitch his father couldn't. (Photograph courtesy of Suzanne LaVigne Gibbs, W'90)

As first pitches go, Jason Gibbs’s was a beaut. It sailed fast and straight toward the catcher’s mitt, evoking that unmistakable pop of ball on leather that conjures impossibly green grass, salty sweet Cracker Jack, and just-right afternoons for generations of baseball fans.

Like so many sons before him, Jason, 6, was at the ballpark for his father. But Brian Gibbs, B’90, couldn’t be there. A former member of the advisory council in the Robins School of Business, Brian had fallen sick and then succumbed to cancer in 2013.

While Brian battled the disease, former Spider pitcher Jim Merritt, ’88, who now works in development, gave him a call to wish him well. “When you’re able to get back for another advisory council meeting,” Merritt had told him, “we’d love to have you come by and throw out the first pitch at a game on Pitt Field.”

“I’d love to do that,” Brian, a lifelong Cincinnati Reds fan, said. But he never recovered enough to make the trip, so Jason did it for him just before a Spiders' game versus Sacred Heart earlier this month.

It was part of a whirlwind weekend for Jason and his mom, Suzanne LaVigne Gibbs, W’90, who had returned to campus to award a newly endowed memorial scholarship in Brian’s name to its first recipient. Honoring her husband with a scholarship “was natural, it just made sense,” Suzanne said. Legendary accounting professor Joe Ben Hoyle was instrumental in Brian becoming a certified public accountant, and faculty throughout the school taught him “inside and outside the classroom,” she said. Giving more accounting students opportunities like the ones that meant so much to Brian seemed so obvious. Friends, family, and colleagues pitched in quickly to fund it. It wasn’t a tough sell.

Jason packed a tie for his first visit to Richmond. He was well aware that this was a special trip honoring his dad, Suzanne said. In their home near San Francisco, there were always lots of Spider logos around, but here on campus he found more than he’d ever dreamed, and they were all over: on banners, on random people’s T-shirts, on everything the bookstore could think to stock. His mind reeled at the choices.

At a scholarship reception, Suzanne gave a keynote address and then she and Jason sat among other scholarship sponsors and their recipients, heard their stories, and posed for beaming photos. The following day brought an on-field handshake for Jason from baseball coach Tracy Woodson, a World Series winner. Jason got a signed ball from the team, then made his walk to the mound.

His dad couldn’t be with him, but somehow he was.

(Slideshow photographs by Kim Lee Schmidt)

[Editor' note: Jim Merritt, who pitched for the Spiders from 1985-88, was the one who asked whether Jason would like to throw out a first pitch during his family's visit. Merritt and his colleagues in development would love to talk with you about funding endowed scholarships to support Richmond students. You can reach them at 804-289-8358.]