He Plays For Them

He Plays For Them

Tucson, AZ (KOLD) - Nick Quintana was driving back to the dorms when he got the call from his girlfriend. Something had happened back in his hometown of Las Vegas. Something horrible.

"I didn't know what to do," he said.

Days earlier, Las Vegas police had found his good friend Neo Kauffman, a former star athlete from Arbor View High School. He along with his girlfriend Sydney Land had been murdered in an apartment about 25 minutes west of the strip, shot dead at least 24 hours before they'd been found.

"I just kind of got in a shell," said Quintana. "Kind of balled up. For me, I feel like it was unreal. I didn't think that was going to happen to anyone that I knew. It was tough."

Tougher still was the fact that, in a way, Quintana was still in mourning. It had only been about a year and a half since he had lost another longtime friend, Evan Thompson who had died as a result of injuries he suffered when his moped crashed into another car.

"He was just one of the best friends you could have," said Quintana. "I was taken back for quite a while. It kind of shook me up a bit. I didn't know what to say or how to act."

Quintana had a similar reaction to the passing of yet another friend, Brandon Blackman, who died because of an asthma attack.

"I didn't expect me to be the person that would have to say goodbye to friends early on."

He didn't expect to have to say goodbye to family either but, at the age of 12, he had no choice with the death of his father's brother, Romero.

"All those people. Kind of like, wow," he said. "They're gone. I love them."

Neo Kauffman. Evan Thompson. Brandon Blackman. Romero Marquez. Four names. Four sets of initials that Quintana inscribes in the infield dirt every single game.

"When I write those initials in the ground, it's not just for show," he said.  "It's to pay my respects. When I write their names down, when we're doing the national anthem, I close my eyes. I talk to them. I pray for them."

At just 19 years old, the Wildcat freshman third baseman has bright future ahead. Yet the deaths of his family and friends have brought a realistic perspective to how he views his life and the game he loves to play.

"At the end of the day, baseball's going to end at some point. I really try to push myself to be the best I can be for my family, people that watch me. But also people who can't watch me. Like Neo. He was like, "When you start playing, I'll be out there.""

Although as Quintana thinks about it, he acknowledges that Neo is indeed out there. They all are. Watching him. Which is why whenever Nick Quintana takes the field, his motivation to do well is crystal clear.

"I play for them."

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