Good Example of a Story

St. Louis team pays tribute to teen
By ROGER GARFIELD

Originally published September 23, 2007 in the Murfreesboro, TN Daily News Journal

Also appeared in Vol. 3, Issue 2 of the Quarterly Newsletter of the Pujols Family Foundation

Staring out into the Missouri air and onto the baseball diamond at Busch Stadium in St. Louis Thursday evening, Ken and Doris Frizzell held hands and breathed easy, experiencing an emotion they hadn't been able to summon in more than two months.

Calm.

Ten weeks earlier, their son, Jordan Henderson, died in a car accident on South Church Street. He was 16.

The subsequent days were a roller coaster of emotions. Pain. Uncertainty. Confusion.

And then, roughly three weeks ago, the Frizzells received a phone call from Todd Perry, the executive director of St. Louis Cardinals slugger Albert Pujols' Christian-based Family Foundation. Perry told them that Pujols had heard about their son and wanted to express his condolences.

Doris wondered why. She barely knew who Pujols was, much less why he cared about her son.

Shortly after Henderson's death, a worn, crinkled piece of paper was discovered in his wallet.

On the paper was a story about Pujols, including a prayer to which the Cardinals first baseman had committed his life:

"Please come into my life right now, Lord," part of the prayer said. "Help me to follow you always."

At Henderson's funeral service, more than 1,000 copies of that prayer were distributed.

According to Riverdale baseball coach Barry Messer, who had worked closely with Henderson — a rising pitching sensation for the Warriors — Pujols' foundation started to receive mail about the folded-up prayer a few days after the memorial.

"They received numerous e-mails and numerous letters about Jordan's story and what it had done for our community and how it pulled people together and brought people closer to God," Messer said.

And Pujols took them to heart.

Two weeks ago, a package arrived at the Frizzell household from the Cardinals organization. Inside, they discovered an authentic St. Louis jersey with Henderson and the No. 7 — the number he wore for the Warriors — stitched on the back. It was even signed by the entire Cardinals team.

"From what we understand, at one of the team's practices, (Pujols) went in and told the other fellows what had happened, and they all signed it right then and there," Doris said.

"You can imagine how we felt when we got that. It feels like our son's made the big leagues." The compassion didn't stop there. Pujols wanted to meet the Frizzells, so he asked them to come to  Louis as guests of his foundation.

They flew out Wednesday and met Pujols and his wife, Deidre, at the ballpark Thursday. Pujols sat with the Frizzells and spoke about his faith and closeness to God.

"He said, 'There's so much more where your son is,'" Doris said.

When she took out the wallet and unfolded the prayer, Doris said Pujols couldn't believe they had brought the wallet.

Shortly thereafter, Pujols excused himself and went into another room.

"I just know he's in there crying," Deidre told Doris.

The days since Henderson's passing have been difficult on the Frizzells.

Doris has yet to set foot in her son's bedroom, but Ken likes to spend time in there, surrounded by his stepson's belongings.

"I like to come up here and think. Cry. Just be with him," Ken said. "He was my best friend."

Even the littlest things around the house stir up memories.

"I'll open the fridge and see an ear of corn, and I'll think of him," Ken said. "He loved corn on the cob."

But a steady stream of visitors to the Frizzell household has helped assuage the loneliness.

"We still have teenagers coming over here weekly," Doris said. "We'll expect two to show up for food with us, and 14 kids will show up, and they'll sit on the floor and tell me funny stories about Jordan.

"It makes us sleep so much better."

While Henderson won't be able to hurl fastballs for the Warriors when the baseball season begins in the spring, his presence has not been forgotten in the Riverdale clubhouse.

His locker remains untouched. A large picture of him on the pitching mound hangs on the wall inside Riverdale's baseball facility. And the players will wear the No. 7 on their hats this season.

Senior right fielder Josh Brawley, a close friend of Henderson's, hopes the Frizzells can come back to the ballfield and cheer on the team when they're ready.

"They're always going to be a part of our family," Brawley said.

In the meantime, Doris says she may travel with the Family Foundation to the Dominican Republic and volunteer with Pujols' offseason charity efforts.

"He would be my pick for the best role model in the world," Doris said.

Friday afternoon, before the Frizzells' plane had landed in Nashville, Deidre Pujols had already called to see if they had made it home safely.

"They are so genuine and so loving," Doris said, her voice significantly more steady than it had been before the trip.

"What I got was a calmness and a peace," she said. "I feel renewed. Even though I've cried ... I feel so strengthened from being around these people. They didn't have to do what they did.

"It's been a blessing. It's been a blessing."

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Frizzells have a Christmas to remember
By ROGER GARFIELD

Originally published December 25, 2007 in the Murfreesboro, TN Daily News Journal

Doris and Ken Frizzell weren’t expecting to have Christmas at all this year.

With the holiday approaching, the grief over the loss of their son, Jordan Henderson — the 16-year-old Riverdale pitcher who died in a car wreck July 5 — had become almost unbearable.

 

“We were in a deep dark hole,” Doris said. “At our lowest.”

Then, shortly after Thanksgiving, a blessing came in the form of a phone call inviting them to Missouri Dec. 15 for St. Louis Cardinals slugger Albert Pujols’ Christmas celebration — the Pujols Family Foundation’s third annual “O’ Night Divine” fundraising dinner. And the Frizzells knew that this would be their Christmas when they arrived — accompanied by Riverdale baseball coach Barry Messer and his wife, Angie — they were blown away. 

 

“I’ll never forget when I walked in to see the room,” Doris said. “It looked like a Donald Trump event.”

 

Minutes later, Pujols came to greet the parents of the boy whose story moved him in September when the Frizzells first came to St. Louis to meet the Pujols family. Henderson had carried a prayer in his wallet — one by which Pujols lived his life. And ever since, the Frizzells and the Pujols family have kept in touch.

 

A reminder of Jordan

 

Doris was struck not only by the elegance of the event, but by a message sent by Pujols, whose Christian beliefs fuel the purpose of his foundation.

 

“What was so inspiring, the event was alcohol-free,” Doris said. “He walks the walk, and he talks the talk. They don’t partake in things like that.”

 

Toward the end of the night, Pujols’ wife, Deidre, presented the Frizzells with a Christmas gift — something they so automatically thought would be absent from their lives this year.

 

The hit of the night — “Every woman in St. Louis wanted it,” Doris said — was a golden doodle puppy, a mix of golden retriever and standard poodle, named Albert. Pujols’ son, A.J., wanted the dog, but considering how much they travel as a family, Doris said Pujols thought it seemed impractical.

 

But Pujols gave the highest bid anyway, and he gave the dog — whose strawberry golden color reminds Doris of her son’s hair — to the Frizzells.

“There will always be a piece of Albert in Jordan for that,” Doris said. “… And Jordan always wanted a boy dog. Now we have what Jordan wanted.”

 

Doris and Ken are calling the dog A.J. And while the potty-training process is still ongoing, Doris expects to have the puppy groomed for baseball come springtime — as the Warriors’ mascot.

 

“We’re going to have him a jersey made,” she said.

As for the Frizzells’ connection with the Pujols family, Doris can’t see it ending. She wants to make their Christmas dinner an annual tradition, and she says more Riverdale parents want to partake in it, as well.

 

“This athlete and his family are just some of the best people in the world,” she said.

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Fisher honors fallen friend with No. 7
By ROGER GARFIELD

Originally published May 13, 2008 in the Murfreesboro, TN Daily News Journal

Every time he puts on his Oakland Patriots jersey or reaches for his catcher's helmet, Colby Fisher remembers.

Remembers when he and Jordan Henderson were the two tallest kids in their pre-school class. Remembers when, in Henderson's neighborhood, they would spend summer evenings skateboarding together. Remembers when, on winter days, they would slide down steep, icy driveways in that same subdivision — oftentimes haphazardly.

"He slid into the frozen lake one time," Fisher says, "and I'll never forget it. He was soaking wet, in about 29-degree weather, screaming."

Baseball triggers these memories for Fisher because, before the start of his senior season at Oakland, he requested to wear No. 7 — the same number Henderson wore when he was a pitcher for Riverdale.

Fisher had faced Henderson in high school once before, during their freshman seasons. The Warrior right-hander got Fisher to ground out in their only encounter.

Sadly, there were no face-offs between the two childhood friends and baseball rivals this year. Henderson died July 5 in a car wreck on South Church Street. He was 16.

In January, when Oakland began its preseason conditioning workouts, Fisher approached teammate Scott Ward about swapping numbers. Ward didn't hesitate.

For Fisher, wearing No. 7 seemed like the obvious way to honor his fallen pal, to keep alive the spirit of the red-headed kid with the electric grin and magnetic personality. And there was another reason.

"It was definitely for his mom (Doris Frizzell)," Fisher says. "She's definitely got a place in my heart. She'd do anything for me. She's like my second mother."

Seeing 7 again

Doris and her husband, Ken, heard about the gesture from Fisher himself. He came to their home a week before the season to show them his helmet, complete with No. 7 decals on either side.

At that time, Doris promised Fisher she would see him play this season.

Wednesday night, as Fisher and the Patriots were playing for a district championship against Riverdale, Doris was at home. But when the Warriors took a 2-0 lead in the sixth inning, she got wind of the score and rushed up to Mack Hawks Field in her pajamas to catch the finish.

She made it just in time to see Fisher hit a double in the middle of a furious rally that helped lift Oakland, 3-2, over Henderson's former team.

Amid the postgame mayhem at home plate, Fisher left the Patriots' celebration and headed in the direction of the first base line. There Doris stood, arms outstretched. They shared a hug just to the side of the Riverdale dugout that seemed to stop time.

"The greatest moment of the few minutes I was there," Doris said, "was seeing Colby hit that ball. Colby will be in our hearts forever."