Memorial Day and Cincinnati's Finest

Christopher Furlong

Greater love hath no man than this...

If you're here for your regularly scheduled dose of Xavier coverage, this isn't going to be it. This is something else entirely, from the heart, or maybe the gut, or from somewhere distinctly inside of me. I anticipate it will wander a bit, but please give it a chance for a friend of mine.

As I have touched on here before, I had what I will term for lack of a better word a "career" in collegiate baseball. I have hinted around that I wasn't very good. That's not false modesty; I really wasn't. I showed up to my school of choice and walked on to the team. By the time I had gotten everything together, cleared the medical, and found my way into practice, the rest of the team had been together for more than two weeks. I was a stranger in their world and overtly not that talented, which combined to not make me an instant part of the team.

My ultimate future would lie on the bench mound, but - like many 18-year-olds away from home for the first time - I was still figuring out what I was. I tried my hand at the middle infield first, but it quickly became clear that my bat speed was not competitive at that level. I was discouraged, to say the least, and contemplated walking back off.

Working as a de facto member of the coaching staff at that time was a Cincinnati native named Jason Ellis. A catcher by trade, he had set a pile of school and conference records before departing via the MLB draft. His minor-league season had closed, and he was working out with the team to stay in shape and rehab a shoulder injury before the next year. He was perhaps the best player to ever come through the program; I was quite near the other end of that spectrum. To say I had nothing to offer him would be putting it mildly.

Despite that, he treated me like I was a real ballplayer. He threw me extra batting practice. He encouraged me when I was splitting my time equally between striking out and making feeble contact. He watched me take some tosses off the mound and told me I had potential there. He was a king on that campus and he treated me, possibly the worst player on the team at that time, as a peer.

Time went on, as it does. I settled in to the squad after a rough first semester. Coach Ellis went back to being paid to play. I ground through four nondescript years of college baseball. His shoulder injury got the best of him, and he retired from professional baseball. We both got married, both fathered sons (two for him, one for me), and he began a career in law enforcement in Bardstown, Ky.

Just before 3am Saturday morning, Coach Ellis was returning home in a cruiser from his overnight shift when he saw what appeared to be a disabled vehicle on an exit ramp. He was off the clock, but he turned on his overhead lights and pulled over to see what he could do to help. Nobody quite knows exactly what happened next, but the evidence on the scene demonstrates that someone shot Coach Ellis several times with a 12-gauge shotgun before fleeing the scene. He died before he even had a chance to unholster his service weapon and defend himself.

You remember fondly the people who have been good to you at times in your life when you could do absolutely nothing for them in return. From what is being reported, Coach Ellis was a good cop, a good husband and a good father. He was active in the community - coaching Little League baseball - and he inspired a level of love that is obvious in his chief's comments in that video. In other words, he was still the same guy that he had been to me way back when I was 18, in over my head, and desperately in need of a boost. It's hard for me to parse that someone set him up and murdered him in cold blood. I wonder when he knew. I wonder if he had time for a last thought about his wife and his boys. I don't know if I hope he did or not.

Memorial Day is about those people who have given everything they had to offer in the defense of our country. Jason Ellis doesn't strictly fit that definition, but he was a friend to me when I desperately needed one, and he deserved better than to go out like that, ambushed on an exit ramp when he had stopped to lend a hand.

I know this hasn't been a light-hearted read. I do hope you enjoy your long weekends, your family traditions, your moments with the people who mean the most to you. But I also hope you find a moment to spare a thought for those who have died in the service of our country, and those that they left behind.

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