BOSTON — The loss and the pain will never go away, lingering one memory, one reminder from the surface, so as Mark Budzinski described his late daughter Julia, his voice halted, the corners of his eyes damp.
“I would say, fierce competitor. Social butterfly,” the Toronto Blue Jays' first base coach began. “Very strong faith. Just loved being around people. And sarcastic wit. She's very sarcastic, which she gets from me. They did a vigil for her at their high school the day after she passed away. A lot of her friends spoke of that. And that was a common theme. Her sarcastic way. She was not afraid to tell you what was on her mind. But at the same time, they appreciated that.”
Budzinski, back at work Friday for the first time since for the first time since a July 2 boating accident took Julia’s life, borrowed from the obituary he’d written with the help of friends “much more eloquent, well-spoken and smarter than me,” in running through the list.
A soccer, volleyball and basketball star at Glen Allen High School in Glen Allen, Va., Julia always “wanted to win so bad.” She loved Toronto and Canada and either the night of or the day after Blue Jays games, would talk with her dad and ask, “‘What was the score, did you guys win’ and ‘what’s your record right now?’” Budzinski recalled.
“She's a winner, man,” he added. “She wanted us to win.”
Budzinski shared that with the Blue Jays upon his return, difficult as it is to use the past tense. Recognizing the power of his emotions, that grief is a new constant, that his life “will never be the same,” he tried to put those around him at ease because “sometimes they don't know how to react, what to say, what to do.”
“Just be yourself,” he told players and staff. “Whatever comes to mind, whatever you want to ask, I'm comfortable with.”
Rejoining the Blue Jays gave Budzinski some comfort.
Being away for a few weeks “feels like it's been forever.” Once through the visitation, funeral, and a pre-planned beach trip that children Josh and Lily insisted to him and wife Monica that the family still take, coming back felt right.
Even during the initial days of mourning, he still found ways to contribute, jumping on pre-game calls to discuss plans for outfield positioning and baserunning.
“I needed an escape sometimes, to not think about what we were going through and work helps with that sometimes,” he said, adding later, “and I want to win, too.”
But as much as baseball offered an escape, the people in the game also offered a leg to stand on, too. Budzinski made a point to say how much he and his family appreciated what he called “just an incredible gift when you go through something like this” and discussing what that support meant to them “was going to make me cry.”
“You hear social media and all the negative in the media sometimes. And the world's full of a lot of good people,” he said. “That's what really hit home for us, how many good people there are who have supported us through this.”
The other key pillar is the family’s faith.
“I'm Catholic. I've been a 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,” said Budzinski. “And as difficult as that is for us to understand right now, with that and the support of the amazing people we know and have come in contact with, that's the only way I see going through it.”