JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Robert Garcia was ready for his first night of the high school baseball season behind the plate, back among the familiar faces on the First Coast.
Garcia, a longtime umpire in the area, was ready for things to get back to normal — or a new normal — since his daughter, Isabella, died in a car accident last June.
The north Florida high school baseball community was ready to welcome him back, and did on Thursday night, his first high school game behind the plate since her death.
It took some crafty behind-the-scenes planning from Bolles baseball coach Mike Boswell, local high schools Mandarin, Providence and Sandalwood, and Garcia’s River City Umpires Association, to pull it off.
Before the preseason game between Sandalwood and Providence at Bolles, a long-planned tribute for the umpire and his wife, Trisha, played out just as planned. There were purple balloons, Isabella’s favorite color, released in her honor. There were positive words. There were tears. It was all about the baseball community honoring one of their own.
“The last several years, we always look for different ways to honor different people or charities in our preseason tournaments,” Boswell said. “What could I do to help somebody? He and his family immediately came to mind.”
Boswell arranged the night with the River City Umpires, where Robert works games through, and even got Trisha in on the ceremony.
“It was kind of cool to keep it quiet, have them be a little surprised,” Boswell said. “It was a sad-happy thing. We were glad to be able to do something to give a little back to someone who gives so much to us in high school.”
Robert said that he was totally surprised by the night, thinking that Bolles was planning to honor another charity in town.
“They played it off so well, they said, ‘No need to [sign in for payment like normal], we’re donating our game checks to charity,’” he said. “I said, ‘Oh, that’s great.’ I wonder if it’s Walkoff Charities, [Frank Frangie’s organization], maybe he and Boz were kind of teaming up on it.”
Sandalwood coach Billy Bell and Providence’s Mac Mackiewitz met at the plate and then broke from the normal pregame protocol to honor the Garcia family.
Bolles, along with Mandarin, Providence and Sandalwood, donated their entry fees to the tournament to the Garcia family. The umpires in the event donated their pay. It was a small way to honor one of their own.
“Mac was there, Billy Bell was standing around the plate and they went into a speech, said the date [of the accident] and Isabella’s name and I just said ‘You guys are amazing.’ Boz is great. I put my head down, looked down at a bracelet [with her college colors on it] and thought of her as they were speaking. I teared up a little bit,” Robert said.
“They’ve done so much for me. The tribute for her. They asked people to keep us in their prayers. The baseball community has been huge. I’ve been involved so long in it, and they’ve just taken me under their wing through all this stuff.”
Isabella was one of four people from Jacksonville killed in a car accident in Gilchrist County on June 9, 2018. The former Sandalwood soccer player was a sophomore who was studying nursnig at USF. Cameron Bell, Alysia Littlejohn and Hayden Raulerson were also killed in the accident.
“We do battle it every day,” Robert said. “Some days, you get out of bed, your feet hit the floor and you just say ‘I’ve just got to continue.’ But Isabella would not want us to be sad. She was so positive and so happy and full of life. There were over 700 people at the [funeral] service for her and that’s when you realize the impact she had on a lot of people. She was our perfect kid, like that perfect child.”