Tatiana Cortez stood at the plate in the rain, her Boston College softball team down to its last at-bat on senior day. Somewhere in the stands was her mother. Her father would love to have been there, too, but he was in a hospital 1,600 miles away; a Houston police officer still fighting to recover, two months after a burglary suspect shot him.
But if Ronny Cortez had to miss this, more than 100 police officers from the Boston area could be there, showing up to support the daughter of a distant wounded brother in blue. Thus, the bittersweet stage was set. Seventh inning, a runner on, nobody out. So what happened next?
Well, in the fairy tale, she would send a game-winning walk-off home run over the right field fence. She would race around the bases trying to figure out whether to scream or cry. She would leap into her teammates’ arms at home plate and then retrieve the home run ball, so her mother could take it back to her father in Houston.
Yep, that’d be the fairy tale. And that’s exactly what happened Sunday at Boston College.
“It was a surreal feeling,” Tatiana Cortez said Tuesday, two days later. “That’s what I keep calling it, because I still kind of don’t believe it happened. I don’t think I’ve ever given my mom a bigger hug. An emotional hug. I still get goosebumps thinking about it.”
Thus, a 7-6 win over North Carolina State was elevated from exciting finish to epic drama. Tatiana Cortez has started 199 games for the Eagles, hit 45 homers and driven in 165 runs. “Never been a moment like this one,” she said.
This was to be a season of nothing but joy for BC’s career leader in homers and RBI. But everything changed on Feb. 28.
Ronny Cortez, a 24-year veteran for the Houston police, was investigating a burglary, just a few houses down from his own home. Then, the shooting started. He was hit, hit again, and again, in the stomach. One bullet came to rest near his spine. He was rushed to the hospital, alive but in critical condition.
Tatiana has been the child of a police officer all her life, and understood the risk. That didn’t help much when the phone rang.
“You don’t think it’s ever going to happen to you, or you hope it doesn’t happen to you,” she said. “When it actually did, I was more in shock. I was like, `what do I do?’’’
A lot of the early news from her mother, Sheri, was relayed to her through BC coach Ashley Obrest.
“My mom couldn’t really talk to me that day. She was busy with my dad, trying to make sure he stayed alive, basically,” Tatiana said. “Being away from home was like your worst fear.”
The Boston College police escorted her to the airport and got her through security, so she could take the next flight to Houston. Yes, her father would survive, but he had a tough recovery road ahead. At first, she wondered what she should do.
“At the beginning, it was pretty tough because I wanted to be back with my dad. But my dad wants me out here playing softball,” she said. “He doesn’t want to feel like a burden to me. He wants me to be able to perform, and that’s kind of what’s always in the back of my head—a do-it-for-my-dad type thing. It’s hard at some points, but I’m out there doing it for him and for a reason. So that helps me get through it.”
She put together another big season, but senior day figured to be difficult. That moment is meant for parents and child to share. The void of a missing father would be deeply felt. But someone at Boston College came up with the idea of Back the Blue Day, and the officers poured in to stand behind Tatiana Cortez. She had lots of mothers and fathers Sunday.
“Obviously, me and my family have gone through a lot in the past couple of months, and that day, the feeling was amazing,” she said. “You could see that my dad still has the support behind him, and how big the blue family really is, from Houston to Boston.”
Then she went out and hit a two-run homer in the fifth and did it again to win the game in the seventh. That sort of drama, you can’t make up.
Soon, Tatiana was on the phone to a hospital room in Houston.
“My mom had already told him, she was very excited,” she said. “He told me how proud he was of me. That’s really all I need to hear from my dad. I know he wishes he could have been there. I wish he could have been there, too.”
The day gave Tatiana Cortez 11 home runs and 43 RBI for the season. That’s the kind of output to maybe motivate a dad, through hard days and long nights.
“I hope it does and I think it does,” Tatiana Cortez said. “But he doesn’t really need that much motivation. He’s a very upbeat person. He’s never down. If anything, he’s always the one who looks at the positive side of everything. So he’s the one motivating me, because he hasn’t given up.”
The daughter wrote a message to her father on the game-winning home run ball from senior day, before handing it to her mother for a very special delivery.
“I think he’s getting it today,” she said Tuesday.
There’ll likely be bigger home runs hit this season in college softball, but none will mean more to the person doing the hitting. Or her family.