Ex-hurler focusing on saves
He is a member of the saddest club on earth. He is a parent who lost his son to suicide. And while he lives with the hole in his heart, John Trautwein and his wife will make it their mission to find other troubled young men and women before it’s too late to help them and their families.
“We can’t have any more empty bedrooms,’’ says Trautwein, who pitched with the Red Sox during the Morgan Magic summer of 1988. “For two months, every time I walked up the stairs, I’d walk past Will’s bedroom and look in there. It was all empty and clean. No clothes on the floor. Sometimes I’d go in there and just sit on the bed.
“This is real and it’s in your community. If it can happen to my family, it can happen to anybody. We were just so stunned. Will was 15. He was good at everything he did. He had so many friends and he was big and strong and good-looking and popular. We really don’t know. This idea of depression is a scary concept. I’ve met so many people who said they had no idea, either.
“Will talked to me. He told me when he was sad and when he had a bad grade. I told him I loved him every day. He definitely knew that. I can look back and say that I did that. And I still lost him.
“I put him to bed that night. Things were going fine. He was getting his driver’s permit the next day. He hung himself in his room. We found him Friday morning, and on Saturday I was asking people to write a check for his foundation, and the next week I was talking to groups of kids. The competitor in me doesn’t like losing, so in some ways, Will is motivating me now. People are starving for this message.’’
John Trautwein is 48 years old. The son of a minor league pitcher, he played high school ball in Barrington, Ill., and went to Northwestern on a baseball scholarship. Nobody drafted him. The only team interested in Trautwein was a chemical company that looked at his 3.0 GPA in the chemistry pre-med program and offered him $25,000 per year.
He rejected the corporate world and signed with Helena (Montana) of the unaffiliated Pioneer League for $500 a month. The Montreal Expos signed him a year later and after three minor league seasons, the Red Sox picked him up in the Rule 5 draft for $50,000 for the 1988 season.
Wiseguy sportswriters thought it was amusing that the Sox had a certified chemist in the bullpen. I wrote, “The Red Sox for years have had relievers more dangerous than the neutron bomb; now they have a guy who actually knows how to build one.’’
But the Sox rarely used him. Trautwein was with the team all season but pitched in only nine games in ’88. He was not part of the playoff roster when the Sox were swept by the Oakland A’s in the ALCS.
“I remember you guys would write, ‘Trautwein held hostage, Day 45,’ ’’ he says with a chuckle.
It was his only year in the big leagues, and it has a Moonlight Graham feel to it. Trautwein pitched 16 innings in 162 games, compiling an ERA of 9.00. He walked nine and struck out eight. He surrendered home runs to Alvin Davis and Mark McGwire. The McGwire shot — which sailed over the Monster just to the left of the center-field flagpole — was particularly memorable, and Trautwein keeps video of the blast on his laptop.
“It never landed,’’ recalls the righty.
So maybe he gave up 2 1/2 homers.
He went back to the minors for a couple of years, then called it a career at the age of 28. It was time to get on with life. He went to work with a chemical detection company as European sales manager, living in Munich for a couple of years. Today he is president and COO of Source Support Services Inc. in Suwanee, Ga. He lives in Johns Creek, Ga., with his wife Susan, sons Tommy and Michael and daughter Holyn. Richard Williams Trautwein, “Will,’’ was their oldest child.
“He was just a wonderful kid, truly,’’ says John. “He was a really good musician. He loved to play the guitar and had his own little band.
“He played baseball, but he really loved lacrosse. He was a fabulous teammate, just happy to be on the team. To him, a win was just playing the game and sharing in the camaraderie of the team. He was a kid who loved people. I’m just so proud of him and I’m comforted by the fact that he knows how proud I was of him.’’
Immediately after Will’s suicide last October, John and Susan established the Will To Live Foundation, to work with teenagers and young adults to promote teen suicide awareness and to raise money for prevention and counseling centers.
“Two things happened when Will died,’’ says Trautwein. “First there was the unbelievable amount of love and support my family and I received. I was like George Bailey from ‘It’s a Wonderful Life.’ I never could have imagined it. It motivated me to get out of bed every morning.
“That, coupled with what I was hearing and learning about teen suicide, motivated me. The world has gotten so huge and the pressures these kids face at 14 — pressures we faced at 20 — they are just not prepared for.
“That must have happened with Will. He didn’t know there were so many people there for him. I see kids who are starving for this. If we can get these kids to talk, maybe pick up the phone or say, ‘I’m hurting,’ that’s what we are trying to do. Raise the awareness.’’
The foundation’s first major event is a 5K race this weekend in Atlanta. Close to a thousand runners are expected.
“The race has been created, designed, owned, and implemented by Will’s friends and high school classmates,’’ says Trautwein. “It’s been nothing short of amazing.’’
Trautwein has also connected with a Wellesley-based organization, Screening for Mental Health.
“Since Will died, I’ve had six people contact me and tell me that their son or daughter ran across this and acted on it and now are in counseling,’’ says Trautwein. “If we just save one life, then Will’s legacy is forever.’’
(To learn more about the Will To Live Foundation, visit www.will-to-live.org.)
Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at email@example.com.