Faith, support help Budzinski get past daughter’s death

BOSTON—A grieving father brings his broken heart back to baseball.

Because baseball can soothe, can fill some of the empty space left behind by a daughter taken too soon, too suddenly, too shockingly.

“Fierce competitor. Social butterfly. A very strong faith. Just loved being around people. And sarcastic wit. She was very sarcastic, which she gets from me.”

That was Mark Budzinski, the Blue Jays’ first base coach, gently eulogizing his 17-year-old daughter Julia in the Toronto dugout on Friday afternoon — not three weeks since lovely Julia was killed in a tragic boating accident in Virginia.

His face crumpling with emotion at times, his voice occasionally catching in his throat, Budzinski spoke lovingly of his child, from the depth of both sorrow and religious faith. Along with the tremendous support of many family and friends, the arm-around from the Jays franchise, the kindness of people all across baseball, it’s his Catholicism, said Budzinski, which is seeing him through these days and nights of unimaginable bereavement.

“I’ve been Christian my whole life. That’s the only way this makes sense to me. To know that there’s something greater for her, that God needed her at this time. And as difficult as that is for us to understand right now, that’s the only way, that and the support of amazing people we know and have into contact with, that’s the only way that I see getting through it.”

There is surely nothing more agonizing that a parent losing a child. And Julia was in the bloom of youth, a fine athlete who played high school soccer, basketball and was most recently a very accomplished volleyballer. She was killed while tubing down the James River behind a boat over the July 4 weekend. Julia and another girl spilled into the water and, when the boat turned to retrieve them, it was struck by a wave, causing Julia to be struck by the propeller.

She was pronounced dead at hospital while, back in Toronto, the Blue Jays coaching staff and then-manager Charlie Montoyo left the dugout to be with Budzinski as he was given the horrific news.

The coaching staff and some players attended Julia’s funeral upon returning from a grim West Coast road swing, a day before Montoyo was fired. And, while Budzinski had been in contact with the team during the past fortnight — sometimes he just needed to fill his thoughts with something other than the anguish and finality of a daughter lost to a freak accident — it was still somewhat surprising to see the always congenial and gentlemanly coach back in uniform, back on the job.

“It feels like I’ve been gone for months, to be honest with you,’’ said Budzinski, who, with wife Monica has two other children. “I know it’s been a couple of weeks but it feels like it’s been forever. In the baseball season, you’re not used to being away from your team.

“I’ve been Christian my whole life. That’s the only way this makes sense to me. To know that there’s something greater for her,” Mark Budzinski said, while discussing the death of daughter Julia.

“It feels good to see everybody’s face, give everybody a hug, and be able to thank them in person for all the support they’ve given us.’’

Felt like the right time to return, is all, after the funeral, after the all-star break, after a pre-planned trip to the oceanfront with his wife’s family, because his other kids wanted to do it. “With Julia passing, it was time to get back to work.”

The comfort of a routine, the solace of a ball field.

“I was telling the guys today, Julia wanted to win bad, so that was important to me. She was a winner, man.”

Rosie DiManno is a Toronto-based columnist covering sports and current affairs for the Star. Follow her on Twitter: @rdimanno

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