Chris Lane hated running.
He even had a “Running Sucks” T-shirt.
A bunch of his baseball buddies were laughing about that the other night when they got together to reminisce about the guy they call Laney. The East Central University baseball player was killed last week when he was shot in the back while jogging.
“Of all the things for Laney to go out on,” his buddies mused. “He probably had his ‘Running Sucks' shirt on and everything.”
At a time when friends and strangers alike are struggling to find sense in a senseless slaying, the reality is harsh — none of this makes sense.
Why does a guy simply out jogging get gunned down? How is it that a baseball player from Australia dies on a quiet road near the outskirts of a small town in Oklahoma? How did he go from Melbourne to El Reno to Ada to Duncan?
It started with a chance meeting between the baseball coach who brought him to Oklahoma and a Canadian in Racine, Wis.
In the summer of 2002, Matt Newgent had just taken a job as an assistant baseball coach at Olney Community College in Illinois, and he made a recruiting trip to Wisconsin. While watching some recruits play a game, Newgent randomly struck up a conversation with a stranger from Canada.
As they talked, the Canadian mentioned that he had a friend, Trevor Schumm, who was involved in the youth baseball scene in Australia. Schumm was running the baseball program at the Australian Capital Territory Institute of Sport.
Maybe he'd have some players who'd want to come to the States.
Contact info was exchanged, and not long after, Newgent got in touch with Schumm.
Sure enough, Schumm had a couple of kids who were interested in coming to America and playing college baseball. Newgent eventually signed two Aussies, but neither made it to Olney. They ended up signing professional contracts in Australia.
But both recommended a couple of other players.
Newgent could've thrown those names in the trash. After all, his initial efforts to bring Australian players to America had failed.
But there was something about the Aussie players. They were friendly. They were outgoing. Newgent liked them.
He decided to try again to recruit Aussies.
Sight unseen in the summer of 2003, he recruited and signed four Australians to come play for him at Redlands Community College. He'd just taken the head coaching job at the El Reno college, and over the next couple of seasons, some of those Aussies became his best players and sold Newgent on recruiting in Australia.
Newgent decided to travel to Australia in 2006 to cement connections that he'd previously built only with phone calls and emails. One of his meetings was with Lee McIntyre, who is widely known as a leader in Australia's tight-knit baseball circles.
Soon after, Lee told Newgent about a kid named Chris Lane. Catcher. Good player. Great leader. Phenomenal young man who had an infectious smile.
When Newgent returned to Australia in 2008, he met Lane and worked him out.
“Chris was everything that Lee said he would be,” Newgent said.
The coach offered a scholarship.
A year later, he boarded a plane for the 9,081-mile journey from Melbourne to El Reno. He left a cosmopolitan, bayside metropolis of more than 4 million for a central Oklahoma town of 16,729.
Shortly after Chris arrived at Redlands, he tore the labrum in his right shoulder. His throwing shoulder. He needed surgery that would require almost a year of rehab.
There'd be no baseball for a year.
Chris could've gotten back on that plane and gone home to Melbourne. No one would've blamed him.
Newgent knew he was disappointed.
“But ... with Chris, you would never know it,” the coach said. “He was excited to go to rehab so he could get healthy, so he could get his arm back to where it needed to be.”
He always had that infectious smile on his face. Coming to the United States to get a college degree had always been a goal, so he was happy to be at Redlands even if he wasn't playing baseball that first year.
Of course, he was pretty happy, too, about a girl he'd met.
Chris met Sarah Harper soon after he got to Redlands. The blonde from Duncan was on the golf team, and even though they didn't start dating for several months, they clicked right away. They were both jokesters, both quick with smart-aleck comments. They spent so much time together that guys on the baseball team would give Laney grief.
But the truth is, they envied what he had with Sarah.
“You could always catch them laughing,” said Tyler Iago, who played two seasons with Laney.
Marshall Veal said, “They were perfect together.”
After playing two junior college seasons, Sarah went to Oklahoma Christian to complete her degree and play golf.
When Chris finished his junior college eligibility a year later, he had a chance to go to a variety of schools.
Chris chose East Central because it was in Oklahoma — and Sarah was in Oklahoma.
“You kind of had that feeling that they were going to spend a lot of their lives together,” Newgent said.
A great man
Those who knew Chris couldn't have been happier that he was so happy. He was a guy who was always there for everyone else. He encouraged. He cared.
He left such an impression on Newgent that the coach made sure East Central was on Redland's schedule last season.
“For really the sole purpose to get down there and see him,” the coach said.
East Central is on Redland's schedule again this season. Chris was going to be a senior, and since major league scouts weren't beating down his door, it was likely to be his last season. He was hoping to make the most of it.
Even if it meant running.
While spending some of the last few days of summer vacation with Sarah in Duncan, Chris was still trying to keep himself in shape for fall baseball practices. That's why he went out for that jog last week.
Everything made sense.
Until a black Ford Focus drove up behind him and someone shot a bullet through his back.
Saturday, a bunch of Laney's Oklahoma friends will gather for a private memorial service. They'll cry and laugh and reminisce.
“I'll remember how great of a man and a mentor he was,” his buddy Marshall Veal said. “He was one of the smartest guys I knew. He understood a lot more about life than most people ever do.”
If only he were here to help us make sense of all of this.