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Angel with a ball glove may have been at game

The tears of June 2011 will live with me forever -- sadness and joy mingled.

Still coping with both emotions, I know that the University of South Carolina baseball team probably had some help from above in winning the College World Series for the second straight year.

My dad, Gordon Smith of Bishopville, S.C., died on June 17, his health declining for several years. He was 81, but I think he felt like 101, with his back problems, heart and kidney trouble and other assorted ailments.

It was heart-twisting to see him slide from a man who taught me and my brother, Mark, so much to a vast shadow of his former self. At times he was cranky and depressed, even if he tried to hide it with his signature wisecracks and a mask of hope for better days that everyone knew would never come.

My mother, Willene, coped the best she could, coddling him as only a spouse of almost 60 years can, trying to make him happy.

My girlfriend, Cynthia, and I flew from Buffalo to South Carolina when Dad was hospitalized. He was alert and glad to see us as he lay in the intensive care unit.

But on that Friday morning two days later, Mom and I watched Daddy slip away, our lives changing forever in that surreal and awful moment. A great man had left the Earth, although no flags flew at half staff and no politicians sang his praises.

Those praises were left to the nursing home residents whom Daddy visited regularly before he got sick, and to the many kids, including me, whom he taught in Sunday School or to those he ministered as a church deacon. They were left to everyone to whom he brought a laugh or treated with respect and honesty.

On a scalding Father's Day, we buried him, the outpouring of sympathy and compassion overwhelming and ongoing, even now. That night, the Gamecocks met Texas A&M in the opening round of the College World Series. The Aggies led 4-0 early, but no one knew South Carolina had an angel with a glove.

In the blur of funeral preparations, our family decided to have Dad's favorite hat placed in the coffin with him. It was a Carolina baseball cap that I wore for a few years before passing it along to him. I had given him new hats, but this one was broken in, faded and fit just right.

When we took the cap to the funeral home on the day Daddy died, I handed it to Don McDaniel, a great man in his own right, who was handling the arrangements. We told him of our desire to have the hat buried with Daddy, and Don -- a staunch Clemson Tiger -- studied it for a few seconds before remarking, "You're sure you don't want to get a better hat?"

One of the bitterest rivalries in college sports meant little then as we all shared a brief laugh amid our grief.

Carolina rallied to top Texas A&M, and then beat top-seeded Virginia twice to meet Florida for the championship. Stung by injuries all season, few gave them a chance to repeat their 2010 title run, but the Cocks skinned the Gators twice to earn another crown. I cried a lot during those days -- grieving tears, then happiness tears, and many of both as emotions ebbed and flowed.

I'd like to think Dad helped will his beloved Gamecocks to the pinnacle, even if it is only a sport played by young men.

I miss you, Dad, and hope you are still wearing your cap. We'llalways love you.


Derek Smith, a Williamsville resident, pays tribute to his beloved father, who passed away on June 17.