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.