From the Bench: Pirates' McCutchen's Kind Gesture Eases Sting of Passing of Cody Carpenter's Father

By Jeff Toquinto on July 30, 2017 from Sports Blog via

They are some of the best memories of his still relatively young life. They are something that Harrison County resident Cody Carpenter holds close to his heart and in his mind on a daily basis.
They are memories of his father and the time the two spent together. A lot of it, a whole lot of it, was time where the two bonded watching professional sports and their favorite teams – the Pittsburgh Pirates, Steelers and Penguins – just a bit north up the road.
There’s nothing unusual there. Cody and his father Jay were and are like so many in this area who grow up with a love for the nearby Pittsburgh professional sports teams.
“I’ve been a lifelong Pirates fan and pretty much everything in Pittsburgh,” said Carpenter, a 21-year-old who is a graduate of Lincoln High School.
That love helped take Carpenter and his friend Steve Felosa earlier this month to Pittsburgh and the David L. Lawrence Convention Center. That’s the large building on the opposite of the river from PNC Park that actually goes out a little bit over the waterway.
“We were there for a meet and greet autograph session to meet some of the Pirates players,” said Carpenter.
The players were the cream of the crop on the Pittsburgh roster. Andrew McCutchen, Gregory Polanco, Jordy Mercer, Francisco Cervelli, Josh Bell and others were on hand. Like many, it was McCutchen who Carpenter wanted to meet the most and, in the back of his mind, even had a request he was considering.
The request dealt with his father Jay who, if things would have been scripted the way Cody Carpenter would have envisioned would probably have been by his side just a few short weeks ago. That, however, was impossible.
On Jan. 31, 2016, Jay Carpenter passed away. A two-plus year battle with a form of head and neck cancer – squamous cell carcinoma – he was diagnosed with in October of 2013 ended almost a year and a half ago. The initial diagnosis came after one of the biggest highlights the Carpenters had ever experienced.
“That same month we got to see the Pirates and the Reds play in the National League Wild Card Playoff game at PNC in the game where everyone was chanting the name of (Reds’ pitcher Johnny) Cueto and we got into his head,” said Carpenter. “Neil Walker hit a foul ball that actually hit off of my dad’s hands. We saw a lot of games, and lot of games where the Pirates won on walkoffs, but that may have been the best.”
Just a few days later, the diagnosis came in and the family knew it wasn’t good. Still, knowing the struggle that lay ahead, Jay Carpenter fought the fight. He went through months of chemotherapy and radiation and the prognosis turned from bad to good in the form of remission.
“We thought it was gone, but a year later the cancer returned,” said Carpenter.
Carpenter was a senior in high school at the time, which made the ordeal even harder to face. The cancer had not only returned, but it had spread throughout his father’s body.
“It just took over, but he still fought until the end,” said Carpenter.
Perhaps it was that fighting spirit that rang in Carpenter’s ears when he decided to ask McCutchen that favor. On Cody’s wrist was a bracelet with the words “Jay Strong – Forever” on it. What he wanted to do was so less difficult than what his father has faced and he proceeded.
“I remember walking up and saying how nice it was to meet him. We were able to talk and I explained the story about my father to him, I told him all about his battle, and how much he loved the Pirates and how much he loved everything about Pittsburgh. I just finally asked if he would consider wearing the bracelet,” said Carpenter. “He didn’t even hesitate and asked me to give it to him. He said he was more than happy to wear it.”
And there it was. The daily physical reminder Cody Carpenter had on him that triggered so many fond memories was on the wrist of the current face of the Pirates franchise that had helped create too many memories to count between father and son.
“He didn’t just wear it at the event. He wore it during the game that night against the Cardinals. I didn’t see it at first, but in his first at-bat he got a single and there it was. I could see it,” said Carpenter. “Here’s this guy that’s a class act, that means so much to Pittsburgh and the Pirates – the team my father loved – and he’s got that bracelet on. I’ll be honest and tell you that in a very good way it tore me up inside and there were about a thousand memories at once pouring into my head. You can’t thank a guy enough for a simple gesture that meant so much.”
So there was Cody Carpenter in the stands. Thinking about those games on television, radio or in person – hundreds of them – that he spent with his father enjoying. Memories, all good ones, that helped put another bandage on an emotional wound Cody knows will never fully heal.
“Baseball and sports was our thing and it’s been an outlet since he passed. He and my mother (Melissa Carpenter) are responsible for my love of sports and I just kept thinking, actually I knew, that my dad was watching all of it and smiling,” said Carpenter, who said he also spent more than his fair share of time fishing and hunting with his father. “I know his presence is always there and could feel it as strong as ever when I saw him standing there with that bracelet on at first base.”
For McCutchen, it was a 20-minute encounter that made a lifetime impact. It told Carpenter what just about everyone already knows in McCutchen. Pittsburgh has a treasure on the roster.
The only bummer as Carpenter told his story is he knows, although he doesn’t believe it will happen, that McCutchen could be traded. He could be denied a chance to finish his career as a Pirate.
“When we talked at the Convention Center he told Steve and I that he wants to stay in Pittsburgh and loves it there. It would be hard to see him go. I honestly wouldn’t know what to do if he did get traded,” said Carpenter.
I imagine Cody Carpenter would hold onto the memories like he has with his father. Those never go anywhere.
Editor's Note: Top photo shows Cody Carpenter with Andrew McCutchen on July 15, while he's shown with his father Jay on a 2014 fishing trip with his father Jay. Third photo shows McCutchen showing his new "Jay Strong" bracelet. In the fourth picture, Carpenter and fellow Pirates fan Steve Felosa mug for the camera during a recent game, while he's shown with Josh Bell at the meet and greet in the bottom photo. All photos courtesy of Cody Carpenter.

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