The Giving Tree

Brent and I were at the 2017 Final Four when I met a group of middle-aged guys who told me they’d been going to the Final Four college basketball’s annual championship weekend every year for two decades. I told Brent about them, and he raised his eyebrows, one of his goofy trademarks, in excitement.

“That’s gonna be us,” he said.

And he was right. That was gonna be us. As college basketball teammates, we’d sat next to each other on every Division III bench in the Midwest, and as friends we’d already traveled all over the map. We attended the 2018 and 2019 Final Fours, too, and, despite living states apart, sandwiched in other weekend trips.

On each trip, our friend group would stay up late, laughing at old memories and planning new ones, drunk on time we didn’t know we didn’t have.

Brent LeMoine passed away on Wednesday after a yearlong battle with lymphoma. He was 26 years old and the most giving, loyal friend I ever knew.

Brent and me at the 2019 Final Four.

He was big, famously tall and strong. Too big for anything to harm him. Someone would make a joke at his expense, and he’d grin and shrug it off. I’d literally jump onto his back like a jungle gym as we’d walk to the Dining Hall, and he’d brush me off his 6-foot-5 frame with a wave of his shoulder and a laugh.

It would be easy to fall into the trope of calling him a “mountain of a man,” but he wasn’t. Mountains are rugged; they’re unforgiving. Brent was a tree of a man, rather, a Giving Tree, like the one Shel Silverstein wrote about. Gentle and generous. He’d give you the shirt off his back “Seriously, take it, it’s fine,” he’d say even though it’d probably be too big for you.

Other people’s happiness was at the forefront of Brent’s mind, and he was always willing to support others in what would make them happy. If you wanted to go to the concert, he’d accompany you. But actually, if you changed your mind, and staying in and watching the game sounded better, well, it did to him, too. He’d walk you to class, even if it was in the opposite direction of his. He once hosted a massive, campus-wide block party, continuing an annual tradition at our college, losing hundreds of dollars in the process but shrugging that off, too, in favor of his peers celebrating graduation weekend.

He was the type of friend who, if you were stranded on a highway, would have hitchhiked his way there, just so you wouldn’t have to stand by yourself. When I’d announce at midnight on a Tuesday that my schoolwork and procrastination had once again forced me into pulling an all-nighter, Brent would shrug off his plans for sleep and say, sure, he could probably do the same.

He hated to be alone, but he hated even more if you were.

He had a smile as wide as his shoulders and eyes that always seemed eager, and as we entered our mid-20s, he’d slap his arm around you and ask you how you’d been, making sure things were going well in your world.

Teammate Nick Curta jumps onto Brent after Brent hit a 3-pointer at Grinnell College’s Senior Night, 2016.

Brent was resilient. He weathered a devastating personal tragedy a couple of years back and told me about it through some tears as he drove me to the airport. My ride had bailed at the last minute after a weekend reunion, and so he drove me, two hours out of his way on I-80, just so I could catch my flight. He was happy to do it.

In The Giving Tree, the children’s book, a big, benevolent tree gives everything it has first its leaves, then its apples and branches, and finally it’s trunk and stump to make a boy it loves happy. Brent wasn’t much different. After he’d given us everything: a ride to the airport here, a shoulder there, plenty of laughs at every stop along the way, Brent’s body became weak in his last months. In our final conversations, Brent asked how my girlfriend was doing, he asked how my work was, and he told me that part of the reason he was looking forward to entering hospice care last week was so that he could build up his strength to see us, his friends, a few more times. He was, again, thinking of us.

Even now, he left us with a gift, a lesson to cherish every moment we get with each other. He left a Brent-sized hole and a Brent-sized reminder to enjoy these times, for they seem infinite, but are not, even for the most selfless of people.

“Some people just get unlucky, Hayes,” Brent told me two weeks ago.

I suppose he’s right. But for those who got to know Brent LeMoine’s love and endless generosity, those who got to share in his laughs, those who got to ceaselessly receive from the Giving Tree, we are the lucky ones.

Dear Kobe


Dear Kobe,


From the moment

We saw the work ethic you’d bring

And your tireless pursuit

Of championship rings

We knew one thing was real:


We fell in love with you.


But not an uncomplicated love — 

From resentment, anger and frustration

To awe and admiration.


As six-year old kids,

We not only saw you on TV

But ourselves in your shoes

Dreaming of ticking clocks,

of game-winning shots.


And so we dreamed.

Trash cans became hoops

Driveways became packed arenas

Taking contested jumpers with no one around,

clock counting down

Shouting “Kobe!”


But this, this we never dreamed.

You were supposed to turn gray

to see GiGi in the WNBA

And yourself in the Hall of Fame,

a father and ambassador of the game

Those plans, unseamed.


Words aren’t apt to describe death,

just a vicious part of growing up

But to our childhood,

you are a portal

we aren’t ready to let go

A basketball immortal.


So, we’ll always be those kids

Crumpled paper in hand

Trash bin across the room

Rising for no one to see

5 … 4 … 3 … 2 … 1




Written in the style of Kobe Bryant’s “Dear Basketball.”

Searching for no-no

On several occasions, I have listed my lifelong goals. Sometimes, it was for a class in school, and other times just for my own sake. When I scribbled them down, a few items were fun: Lose track of the number of Third Eye Blind concerts I’d attended. Some were simple, yet important: Be happy. Others were very specific: Attend the Midnight Sun baseball game played annually in Alaska on the Summer Solstice.

The goals have, naturally, changed from time to time. But there’s one that has never wavered: Witness a no-hitter live.

The no-hitter in baseball is an accomplishment that is unparalleled in sports. In basketball, it’s impossible to hold a team scoreless. In football, preventing your opponent from gaining any positive yardage is unrealistic. In other sports, there is not a comparable achievement. But, in baseball, dominating your opponent in such a way that, for nine innings, no one can hit and safely reach base? Now, that’s a feat. And it happens.

Whenever I attend a baseball game, I think of the game as two opportunities (each team has a shot, right?) to see a “no-no.” It’s like how, at the start of college football season, every fan has high hopes for their team. After all, to win a title, all their team needs to do is not lose 14 or so times. And a no-hitter? The pitcher just needs to not allow a hit, 27 times.

Of course, it’s not that easy. Which is why few people watch for them. I once asked a vendor at a sweaty Milwaukee game in July 2013 if he thought starting pitcher Yovani Gallardo had a chance to prevent any hits. He didn’t even dignify that with a reply, just a laugh. But the joke was on him! Gallardo finished just a half dozen allowed hits shy of a no-no before being pulled in the 6th inning.

The closest I’ve come to seeing one in person came on July 17, 2017 in the birthplace of all things memorable: Sevierville, Tennessee. The Tennessee Smokies, Double-A affiliate of the Chicago Cubs, hosted the Mobile BayBears. The game would’ve been purely pedestrian if it wasn’t for one wrinkle. On the mound for the Smokies was an MLB pitcher on an injury rehab assignment.

Kyle Hendricks, the 2016 National League ERA champion and World Series winner, came out on a mission against the inferior hitters. He did not look like he was recovering from injury as he systematically outsmarted and confounded hitters. Between each inning, he paced from the mound to the dugout without looking up from the dirt. After five innings, he’d faced the minimum number of batters: no walks, no hits, no errors. He was also done for the day.

Kyle Hendricks warming up before throwing five perfect innings.

Despite being in the midst of throwing a no-hitter and perfect game, Hendricks had bigger plans ahead and would soon be sent to Chicago to help the big club on their 2017 playoff run. So, the Smokies handed the ball to Duane Underwood, typically a starter.

Surprisingly, the magic continued. Underwood baffled the BayBears, striking out three through his first three innings. When the 9th rolled around, the Smokies were still holding onto a perfect game, leading 2-0.

Fans who understood the potentially perfect situation stood. And they cheered when Underwood struck out the first batter of the final frame. Two outs away. For me, I was two outs from a lifelong goal. Then, Tim Arakawa stepped to the plate. The mighty, mighty Tim Arakawa.

Arakawa batted .245 during the 2017 season. His most infuriating hit might have come at that moment.

Hedging my emotional bets, I had not yet started to believe that the perfect game would really happen. Pitchers take no-nos and perfectos deep into games all the time before they’re blown. But after Underwood got a strikeout to start the 9th, my confidence rose. The BayBears hadn’t struck the ball well all night. Might this actually happen?

Arakawa must have heard me confidently thinking. The lefty smacked a hard ground ball up the middle for a base hit. He’d safely reached base, fair and square.

[Video of Arakawa’s hit.]

Standing on the front row with my dad — we love minor league baseball and tour different ballparks — I leaned against dugout in despair, hugging the cement. Those not paying attention were certainly puzzled as to why I’d reacted in an exaggerated manner to a base hit in a minor league baseball game. Still, a bulk of a stadium gave a round of applause for what they’d witnessed: a shot at history.

The game wasn’t over, though. Underwood gave up a two-run homer a couple batters later, tying the game, before the Smokies put together a two-out rally for a walk-off victory. And that was entertaining. Walk-offs don’t happen too often, and it was fun to see. But it wasn’t a no-hitter.

Afterwards, I hung around to get a few autographs and talk to the players. I told Underwood that he’d pitched well; it was fun to watch. “I wish I’d got a couple more,” he said, shaking his head.

Baseball has recently seen its popularity fall, but there’s still something uniquely sensational about an evening spent at the ballpark. So each summer — whether on assignment or not — I check out various ballparks at various levels: college, minor league, major league. This summer won’t be any different.

If you need me, I’ll be searching for a no-no.

My scorecard from the near no-no. Autographed by Duane Underwood, as well as Cael Brockmeyer and Daniel Spingola, who drove in and scored the winning run, respectively.