by Jason Salas
Guam - For the second time in three days, KUAM's newsroom was alerted about an emergency. For the second time in three days, the island's sports community was shocked to learn of an incident involving a beloved athlete. For the second time in three days, my heart sank. For the second time in three days, someone I know was in dire trouble.
To say I'm Steve Alcantara's friend would be somewhat of a stretch. But I'd like to think I am. I first met Steve in, of all places, the emergency room.
Sometime in 2004 my father, a diabetic, was having a particularly bad bout with the flu and was running a high fever. At 8:30 on a Saturday night my mom and I took him to the Guam Memorial Hospital where Dad was given a bed and examined. During my wait at the nurse's processing station I sat beside a man younger than myself wearing muddy cleats with a football uniform freshly soiled with grass and dirt and sweat and blood, favoring a badly separated shoulder he suffered in a Miller Football League game about an hour earlier.
We got to briefly talking, and despite his obvious discomfort he shared a couple of thoughts - the perfunctorily icebreaking "So what are you in for?", the hit that caused him to seek urgent medical care, that he was dating a girl who I learned was a cousin of mine, where he went to high school, and some general tidbits to pass the time. When I was finally allowed to join my father in his room, I said goodbye to my new acquaintance - who remarkably looked past his own excruciating pain to smile and say, "I hope your dad gets better".
I've always remembered that night. And that kindness. That smile.
Since then Steve and I bumped into each other sporadically. As I cover the MFL, he nodded when he saw me, a gesture I've always appreciated and returned. I'm not certain if he remembers our brief chat or that we previously met at all. But there was always that same reassuring smile.
Saturday evening, I got word after broadcasting our Game of the Week that rescue teams were looking for a man barely in his 30s who had fallen off a jetski while out on the water at Umatac Bay and were searching late at night in an area that even when artificially lit is still pitch-black. From Facebook and from Guam Fire Department officials (the former much faster than the latter), I learned the missing man was Steve.
I immediately let out a mournful sigh - the same inarticulate, disconsolate reaction I had two days ago when hearing that Ray Rojas, one of Guam's most adored baseball players and by virtue of the binding nature of sports, a friend, was killed in a horrific Mangilao car crash.
In addition to his role as a wide receiver for the Pepsi Warriors, Steve also starred as a pitcher in the Budweiser Baseball League and was off to a fine season on the mound for the Bank of Guam Athletics. He's equally, if not more, respected in that sport's community, too. And fans still grieving Rojas' loss now mourn another diamond star.
Many of the Warriors joined Steve's family Saturday night as soon as they heard the news, standing vigil at the search site down south. Less than twenty-four hours later, Steve's teammates donned their helmets and with heavy hearts took the field against the league's best team, the undefeated Cars Plus Rams, in a battle for first place. Ultimately the Rams won 13-7, with Steve remembered during a moment of silence before kickoff.
His team played valiantly, even deep into the 4th quarter while unbeknownst to them the news broke that his body had finally been recovered.
With his situation on their minds they played hard for him, knowing full well that in the grand scheme of the universe their football game meant little. But to honor a teammate in the best way they could and for those who knew him, such a moment meant everything. It meant hope.
It galvanized the spirit of team and exhibited true friendship.
I wish I could reciprocate Steve's kindness to his family and loved ones. I wish I could send them the same encouraging smile he sent to me that fateful night in the ER. I wish I was able to say or write something profound to give them peace in the face of a sorrow I can't even begin to imagine. I'd like to offer them the faith he offered me as a total stranger. Like his teammates, I pray for him. And wish that somewhere at sometime I'll be able to see him again.
So that I might have the opportunity to smile back. Rest in peace, Steve.
Jason Salas writes his weekly column "MFL Rocks!" on KUAM.com and does play-by-play for Miller Football League games on KUAM-TV.
An inmate is found dead at the Department of Correction prison overnight. Corrections officers reported inmate Luis Hocog was found unresponsive inside his Post 16 cell around 11 pm on Friday. The officer contacted the platoon commander of the situation and requested for medical assistance, a news release stated.More >>
An inmate is found dead at the Department of Correction prison overnight. Corrections officers reported inmate Luis Hocog was found unresponsive inside his Post 16 cell around 11 pm on Friday. The officer contacted the platooMore >>