By Brian Reed-Baiotto, Sports Editor
I met Nick Field back in 2006 and it was during the darkest moment of his young life.
While covering a summer baseball playoff tournament for a local newspaper, a man working the event suggested a story topic that would end up being one of the most rewarding and heartbreaking features that I’ve written in my 21-year career.
The story was meant to be about the trials and tribulations of a high school student-athlete that was getting ready for his impending senior football season, while dealing with something at home that was beyond devastating.
A beautiful family in West Covina had three children, the youngest of which, Jacob, was battling the final stages of cancer, and he was just 10 years old.
I called the Field home and spoke to Jacob’s wonderful mother, Lisa Field, who, to this day, inspires so many with her strength, along with her amazing husband, Jorge Field.
During that phone interview, I didn’t know Jacob only had days to go.
Mrs. Field explained, and 14 years later, I can still remember hearing the pain in her voice when she talked about stopping Jacob’s treatment “because his little body couldn’t take any more.”
During that moment, and sitting in the office at that newspaper, Lisa could hear me breaking down, as did people around the desk and they wondered what was wrong with me.
Being the brave and strong mom that she was and continues to be, Lisa Field actually took the step to comfort me over the phone in that moment, and we set up a photo shoot with Lisa and her son Nick, who posed with a couple of gifts that were sent to Jacob, including a signed baseball bat.
After a conversation with Mrs. Field, she handed the phone to her very composed and yet guarded 17-year old son, Nick Field.
Nick talked about MLB star catcher Jason Kendall coming by the house to see Jacob, who was a diehard Oakland A’s fan, and the Field’s were invited to an A’s game, which also allowed the entire family to tour the A’s locker room.
When it was time to go back to West Covina, Jason Kendall flew them home on a private jet.
Nick’s quote to me about that day still rings as loudly as it did the first time he said it.
“This was the best day of my life, because Jacob was happy,” he said.
After putting the story together, and several phone calls with the sports editor of the paper, who combed over every word to make sure we got such a sensitive story right, it ran as the lead sports story in three newspapers, and it included a link to a Caringbridge site that allowed families to keep people informed with how their child was doing and it gave friends the ability to leave comments of hope.
Jacob’s page filled up from total strangers as well as friends of the family, who all sent their overwhelming gestures of love, prayers and well wishes to Jacob and his entire family.
Sadly, on same day this story was published, I got a text from then West Covina baseball coach Drew Lorenger, who informed me that Jacob had indeed taken his last breath.
After I picked my heart off of the ground, I drove immediately to this newspaper and did a follow up story, and then to his funeral in the Diamond Bar area, where a slew of family, friends, teammates and well wishers overfilled the service to honor Jacob Thomas Field.
I promised the Field family I would personally bring extra copies of the article to their home and waited a couple weeks before showing up unannounced.
After work one evening, I drove over to their West Covina home, as the darkness was setting in that night.
There was a man in his 40’s that had to be Jorge Field and he was taking out the trash to the street.
I asked if he was Jorge, and he nodded yes.
“Hi Jorge, I’m Brian from (the newspaper) and I promised I’d bring buy some copies.”
Without saying a word, Mr. Field stopped what he was doing, came over to me, grabbed and hugged me like we were best friends.
I got to go inside and finally meet Lisa, Nick and his sister, Danielle.
During the toughest time of her life, Lisa Field, and she may not know this, did and said things that still inspire people to this day.
Instead of the traditional “he lost his battle with cancer,” Lisa went a different route, that until then, many people had never heard.
“Jacob won his battle with cancer, because it can no longer cause him pain.”
It blew people away, because it was both brave and positive, and at the same time, the sentiment was real and accurate.
Six years later, in 2012, when discussing my own father’s death to cancer, my mom, Karen Baiotto, continued to be inspired by Lisa Field, and said and believed the same motto that cancer is done hurting my husband of 48 years.
After saying goodbye to his little brother, who was beloved and nicknamed ‘warrior,’ Nick had to do everything he could to focus on school and football, and luckily for the Bulldogs’ senior, he had coaches and teammates, who genuinely love him, and they deserve so much credit for helping this young family move forward.
Nick Field was a sophomore member of the 2004 CIF championship team and two years later, he was the San Antonio League’s defensive MVP.
At linebacker, Field would literally knock a lineman, running back or anyone else in his way on their (butt), but never once did you see him disrespecting an opposing player or the game, because that would bring dishonor to West Covina, his program and a coach in Mike Maggiore, that he very much looked up to like a second father figure.
It would also not be the character of a kid that Jorge and Lisa Field raised the right way.
He was also a four-year varsity baseball player, who went on to play baseball in college.
Field starting at Concordia in Irvine and ended in Kansas City, at Avila University.
At Avila, he was not only a unanimous first-team, all-conference catcher, he also earned a pair of gold gloves at the same position.
When speaking to his former coach on Thursday, Daryl Cronk said they believed Nick had caught over 10,000 pitches over his two years at Avila, and he had just one error over that stretch.
But whether it’s West Covina High School baseball or football or his stops during his collegiate career, coaches marveled at what a great teammate and person Nick is far before any of his outstanding physical abilities.
Before getting to Avila, though, you could make the argument that his time at Concordia was the most important moment of his life.
And that was because of one occurrence.
Concordia is where he met his future wife, Nicolette, in 2009.
What is probably one of the most important reasons their relationship is what it continues to be to this day, is that Nick and Nicolette were friends for over a year before they even started dating.
While Nick was in Kansas City going to school and playing ball, Nicolette was back here getting her education, and they did the long-distance thing for longer than either would have liked.
Eventually, in 2011, Nicolette moved to Kansas City to live with Field and three of his roommates.
It was during that period that Nick says his future wife helped to bring him out of his shell and forced him to be uncomfortable by expressing his feelings, being more vocal and having fun outwardly.
He would earn a degree from Avila University in Kinesiology.
The Field’s married in 2014 and Nicolette absolutely brings out the best in Nick, and because of that, he’s never been more happy.
Nick and Nicolette live in Kansas City, as she works in cyber security and he has a career with an electrical distribution company.
Jorge, 56, and Lisa, 53, currently live in Brea, and when Jorge retires in the near future, he and Mrs. Field plan to move to be near Nick and Nicolette in Missouri.
At the top, it was mentioned that it was most devastating period of Field’s life in which we first met.
I’m beyond thrilled to say I still know and love Nick Field in this, the best time of his life.
And to give stock to that claim, this story also has a very happy and inspiring ending.
Later this year, Nick and Nicolette will welcome their first child, a son into this world.
And his name will be Jacob, after Nick’s beloved brother in Heaven.
Said Nick Field: “Nicolette has a heart to care for others more than herself. She has a servants heart and puts God first in her life. She completed me and helped me fulfill my true potential. When we found out it was going to be a boy, we decided on Jacob and it allows me to keep his legacy and reminds me to live in the present and to never take a single day for granted.
I’ve been fortunate to have great coaches at West Covina like Mike Maggiore, Drew Lorenger and their staff, as well as each college I’ve been to. Coach Cronk had a big impact on me and they all contributed to my life in more ways than they probably know. My sister Danielle is 27 and married and my parents prepared us both to be successful through hard work and to use faith as a way to guide us through the best and worst of times. I think about Jake every day and I not only miss him, I miss protecting him, but I have faith that I will get to see him again. I feel so lucky to have the people I love doing well and still a big part of my life.”
The following are his high school football and baseball coaches thoughts on Field, as well as his college baseball coach and his beautiful wife, Nicolette.
Avila University baseball coach, Daryl Cronk: “When your best player is also the hardest worker, you know have something special. And Nick led by his actions and wasn’t a guy who was going to say much. I remember coming to work about 6 a.m. and noticed a little light on, and Nick was working out and was sweating heavily, so that meant he had been there for quite a while. The character that guides him in his daily life is as high when nobody is watching as the times people can observe just what a great young man he truly is. He was a great catcher and an even better young man. He is someone you wish you had nine of on your team.”
Former West Covina baseball coach, Drew Lorenger: “Nick was a four-year varsity player on our baseball team. He was a no nonsense type of player. He was a quiet leader. I’ve never seen a guy lead while using as few words as he did.
I strongly believe that solid kids come from great homes. And I can recall Nick’s sophomore season, where he started the first two games and then we sat him in the third game. Immediately following the game, his father Jorge approached me and asked if we could talk later. I thought to myself, ‘here we go again, another parent complaining about his kid being on the bench.’ But when the time came to talk and to my surprise, Jorge wanted to express his concern about Nick’s grade in math. He said his son had a lot of respect for me and that he hoped I could influence him to work harder in class. I mentioned that I thought he was going to complain about playing time, and Jorge said “we don’t care about that. That’s your decision. We just want Nick to be a successful person.
His junior year was the toughest. His brother was sick and his family was struggling. It was the number one thing on all of our minds, although we didn’t verbalize it much. I let Nick know that I was praying for him, that I was there for him and so did many of his teammates. We all attempted to create a space of normalcy for him during his day. Baseball could be his escape. We all lived that difficult time with him. And Nick went on to be a successful baseball player and person. He exemplifies the very reason I coached. He has integrity, works hard, and is a joy to be around. I’m just thankful that I was fortunate enough to be part of his journey.”
Three-Time CIF championship football coach, Mike Maggiore: “Besides being one of the best two-sport athletes that West Covina has ever seen, he was more inspiring off the field. Nick is the type of man you want your son to be a lot like. He has a strong work ethic, and is a character-driven young man. He is also tough and at the same time, gentle with a tremendous heart. He was a leader in every sense of the word and he was competitive and among the hardest workers I’ve ever coached. Nick didn’t tell you what he was going to do, he just did it. I’m very proud of him and love the fact that we’re in contact. He’s had more of an impact on me than I’ve had on him. He’s always been great around kids and is very patient, so Nick’s going to be an excellent father.”
Nicolette Field, wife of Nick Field: “When I first met Nick, I connected very much with his quiet but strong spirit (I am the very opposite of him as I am very outgoing). He was quite the observer, but still carried a confidence about himself. When I finally learned more about him, it took several years for me to break down his walls and that’s when I truly learned how loyal and grounded he was, which is something I had been longing for. He was also an incredibly hard worker, but only with things he cares about. His work ethic in baseball was something that pushed me and still pushes me to be better everyday.
(How have you made him come out of his shell?) Well, first and foremost, I allowed him to embrace himself. He is very strong and confident, but in a quiet way. He is no longer quiet and reserved. He is extremely crazy and so much fun. I really just allowed him to be himself, and make him do things that he doesn’t really want or like to do. But ultimately, he truly put his focus on God and who he is in him, and when I saw that transition in his life, is when he truly came out of his shell to begin the path of finding who God truly created him to be.
He is absolutely my best friend and my partner. We enjoy life, we work hard, and we love people to the best of our ability. He is the head of our house, he leads us in all things, he never allows us to be content and he makes me better.”
Editors Note: I hope to do as many “where are they now” stories of past SGV area athletes in the future. For any compelling story ideas, please feel free to email me at Brian@210PrepSports.com