HAYWARD -- This is a baseball story about a ball, a boy, a grave marker and a high school team's character while mired in defeat.

The boy was Derek Charles Taugher, who died suddenly in January at 41/2.

The grave is surrounded by artificial flowers, pinwheels, two wooden birds, four golf balls, a toy truck with "Aramark" on its side, a piggy bank, a Mother's Day card, and a partially deflated balloon that reads "Happy Mother's Day" and bounces in the wind.

The grave marker, on the far side of the vast Holy Sepulchre Cemetery, has two crossed bats and a ball etched into its onyx surface along with the words "Never Had A Sad Day."

The scuffed ball was placed atop the boy's grave by his father, a one-time outfielder in the Kansas City Royals' minor-league system.

Then one day the scuffed ball got company: a new, white autographed baseball.

Baseball always near

Taugher's tombstone is several feet from a chain-link fence that separates Holy Sepulchre from Moreau Catholic High School's baseball field. Derek's father, Arthur Taugher, picked that exact location. "It was the ideal spot, right behind home plate," he said. "He'll always have a baseball field to look over."

Foul balls often land in the cemetery. That's why before every game, Ceasar Brown, the sixth-year Moreau coach, unchains the gate in the fence in case balls need retrieving.

One day, he saw the scuffed ball on the grave. He approached the grave, stared at the words, and choked up. "My God, that kid's not even 5 years old," he recalled thinking.


Advertisement

"And here we worry about hitting a baseball or paying a bill. Sometimes, God puts things in your path for a certain reason.

"Then my purpose was to say to that mom and to this kid, 'You deserve to have a brand-new baseball.'" Earlier this season, Brown noticed a woman sitting alone in front of the same grave. It was Kelly Taugher, the boy's mother.

Moreau's enjoyment with baseball then turned to disappointment as it lurched through a rocky season. But after spotting the scuffed ball, Brown had his players sign the new ball. After which he talked to them about the game: the game of life.

"You should try and dedicate yourselves to being the best you can be," he told them, "to put things in perspective and not worry about your record and people laughing because you're not playing up to potential."

After yet another Moreau defeat, Derek's father showed up to thank Brown and his team for the autographed ball. That's when Brown learned Arthur and Kelly Taugher had lost their only son.

"I told the dad, 'Your kid inspired me more than you would know,'" Brown said, " 'and I will continue to share this story with anyone who plays in our program.'"

Brown is an off-campus coach. This hasn't been the best spring for him, either in baseball or in the real estate business. But he realized nothing could be as traumatic as what the Taugher family is enduring.

So Brown, who has a wife and three children, decided that with Mother's Day coming, he wanted to honor Kelly Taugher. He did so with a card and a balloon on the grave. On the card he wrote: "I'm sure Derek's life was an inspiration to you. It's important that you know that in his death he is an inspiration to others. We're glad to have him be a part of our team. God doesn't make any mistakes. He'll continue to use Derek to make this a better world."

Arthur Taugher has two daughters from a previous marriage who live with his ex-wife in Castro Valley. Kelly Taugher has one daughter from a prior marriage who lives with her mother and stepfather in San Lorenzo.

Derek was Arthur and Kelly's child, the boy who knew no sad days. "He would wake up happy every day," said Kelly.

"He was happy just being home," said Arthur. "You didn't have to entertain him. He'd entertain himself. He just loved life. Every day, he'd hug us and tell us he loved us."

Derek's parents talked about his intelligence, how he read books, and how he loved playing games: baseball, golf, whatever.

The family had gone to Monterey for a weekend. That's where Derek fell ill with the flu, experiencing vomiting and diarrhea. The family returned home immediately and put Derek to bed.

Arthur caught the flu, too, the next day. Derek brought him juices.

Then the boy's complexion turned gray. The parents rushed him to a hospital, where a doctor checked his fever, said he was OK, and told the parents to take him home, give him plenty of fluids, and he'd be fine by morning. "It was almost like, 'What are you doing here?'" said Kelly.

The fluids had little impact, and by morning Derek was dead.

The Taughers are considering a medical malpractice suit. But in losing one life, they saved three others. Five of Derek's organs were donated by his parents to five children at death's door, and three of the organs -- heart, liver, lungs -- took hold, according to Arthur Taugher.

Sharing love of sport

There are twists to this baseball story.

Kelly Taugher went to Moreau High in the late 1980s as Kelly Matson.

Arthur Taugher played baseball at Arthur Hill High in Saginaw, Mich., with Oakland A's pitching coach Curt Young.

Taugher's brother, Terry Taugher, was the Hill High basketball coach and guidance counselor of Warriors star Jason Richardson. And Arthur Taugher hit the scuffed ball for a home run when he played for a team known as the Mariners, the same nickname as the Moreau Mariners.

"I gave that ball to my boy," he said. "He always played with it. It was his favorite ball. I'll keep it on my dresser in the bedroom, so I can think about my little boy."

Derek's parents are convinced he would have been some ballplayer, because he showed aptitude and strength at an early age. And he has the genes: His dad still plays softball and baseball.

"It makes me happy when people think about Derek," Kelly said about the autographed ball. "It make me happy to know he's not forgotten. I feel honored to have been his mom."

"All I know is I miss him every day," said Arthur. "I'm not going to lie: I cry every day. I get in my work truck, park it, and just cry." He drives for Aramark, a uniform delivery service whose clients include the concession people at McAfee Coliseum. He often took Derek to A's games.

"It's going to hurt the rest of my life," said Arthur. "But they say 'one day at a time.' All of the Moreau kids came up to the fence and offered their condolences to me. They're great kids"

Moreau's baseball season ended Wednesday with a 6-18 record.

Although dealing with a losing season, the Moreau team visited Derek's grave.

Some of the Moreau seniors spoke for their teammates.

"To see how much signing a baseball meant to the father, and what it would have meant to his son," said Gary Christo. "The opportunities his son doesn't have that we have, it just makes me more grateful to be out here."

"I respect life more now," said Brent Songey. "The wins and losses are not a big thing. I just want to have a good time and don't take anything for granted. Anything can happen. The kid loved baseball."

"How life can be taken away so quickly, I'm just glad to be out here with the guys," said Matt Fernandez. "Coach always says that small things lead to big things, just a small thing like signing your name to a ball."

Brown asked Arthur Taugher to help coach next year's Moreau team. He accepted.

Reach Dave Newhouse of the Oakland Tribune at dnewhouse@angnewspapers.com.