The baseball field at Notre Dame High School is where Jay and Mary Fagnano find love.
Their son, Nick, went to school here and played baseball here and loved it here. So, they love it, too.
Fagnano died at just 20 years old after lightning struck in July at Venice Beach. He was with friends and had just gone in the water to rinse off. That morning, he had gone with friends to settle on an apartment for his future as a USC student.
Out of that tragedy has come many good things, including the support of the Notre Dame High baseball community. There’s a new foundation, the "Thrive and Joy Nick Fagnano Foundation, and a place for the Fagnanos to go where they feel happy.
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And on Saturday morning, that was at home plate of the renovated field. That’s where they were surrounded by Notre Dame’s freshmen, junior varsity and varsity players, along with alumni, to honor their son.
Notre Dame coach Tom Dill envisioned this day, and Jay Fagnano was overjoyed.
"I told him I needed to be part of this Notre Dame family again and to feel close to baseball because that’s what Nick loved, so I could be close to young men," Jay Fagnano said. "The freshmen, when Nick was a senior, are now seniors. It’s a really special feeling."
Dill presented the Fagnanos with a plaque with an inscription that read: "This award is in recognition of your son, Nick, for his dedication to the Notre Dame baseball program. Nick’s life has been an inspiration to all of us, and he will be greatly missed. He will forever be an example of Christian love, respect and dedication. Notre Dame will always be a home for the Fagnano family."
There are banners all around Notre Dame of championships and names of former players who became Major League Baseball players.
A banner in Fagnano’s memory will be up there alongside them. Mike Wilson, Jake Hirabayashi and Jordan Myrow walked the banner out to home plate to show the Fagnanos, and they all embraced.
Members of the Notre Dame High junior varsity and varsity baseball teams, along with alumni, gather at home plate Saturday morning to honor their fallen teammate.
Each player told them how Nick Fagnano was a senior that accepted them on varsity as freshmen.
That made Jay Fagnano smile. As did Dill’s support.
"That hit hard to the core with all of us," Dill said, "especially because of the person Nick was. He graduated in 2012, played here four years, was a member of Fellowship of Christian Athletes and one of the sweetest kids anyone could ever meet."
And then there was another emotional gift. The Fagnanos were given their son’s No. 48 jersey.
Mary Fagnano held the white jersey and said she might wear it sometimes. She was wearing her son’s Notre Dame letterman’s jacket on an overcast day.
"I wish this day never happened, but it did," Jay Fagnano said. "We’re so grateful to Notre Dame for what they’ve done for us and how their arms have reached around us. We’re humbled by the outpouring these last six and a half months.
"Notre Dame is a big part of it – Notre Dame, USC and the Hancock Park community. So many communities. To have a day to honor Nick like this is tremendous."
There have been so many lovely ways that people have honored Nick Fagnano. They honored their son on what would’ve been his 21st birthday with an open house and all of his son’s favorite foods, including ceasar salad.
USC reached out. The Dodgers reached out. Notre Dame embraced them. A trip to the Dominican helped.
"They were all with us from the moment it happened," Fagnano said.
An umpire working the alumni game that was held later that day told Jay Fagnano that he was always happy to see his son. He’d been umpiring many of his games dating back to the days Fagnano played in Wilshire Baseball’s Little League.
Assemblymember Adrin Nazarian of the 46th Assembly District, presented a memorial resolution to the Fagnanos at home plate as well. He closed the Assembly last August by honoring Fagnano’s memory.
"I wanted to make sure, at least through the Assembly, we could pay our respects to the Fagnano family," Nazarian said. "What I came to know about Nick was his talent, selflessness of organizing drives that helps kids in other countries to benefit from the sport he loved. And also making sure helping out with toy drives. This emotionally connected me to this young man."
The Fagnanos found a new connection to their son after his death, too. They found a paper on his computer that he wrote at Notre Dame. It was about Nick Fagnano’s perception of heaven, which was joy and happiness. He figured the expression of rest in peace should be more like "thrive and joy."
.And thus, the name, "Thrive and Joy Nick Fagnano Foundation" honoring him was decided. The Fagnanos are still working on a Web site, but they’ve already been honoring their son.
At the age of 13, he brought plastic trash cans to the Wilshire Baseball field and had asked baseball players to donate cleats, uniforms and equipment. Jay Fagnano said they sent 400 pounds of goods to the Dominican Republic.
And recently, the Fagnanos went to the Dominican on a trip to help rebuild a school. Jay Fagnano said they put in new desks and tables and curtains and did everything but paint.
"This all came about because Nick," Jay Fagnano said. "He always had that interest in the Dominican. It was a natural thing for us to move into. … It was a wonderful, wonderful experience. We hope to lead another group there. We work with this group called Vision Trust. They do amazing things.
"We hope to continue Nick’s legacy and his name in the foundation."
Jay Fagnano will also be barbecuing at Notre Dame baseball games this season. He’ll upgrade the menu with chill and pulled pork and sandwiches and cesar salad.
And be delivering and receiving lots of love at a place his son loved so much.