It was a series of good fortune that put 27-year-old Clint Seymour on King Street late one Friday night last April, right up until the fatal skull fracture. His parents moved from Pittsburgh to Seabrook Island as his father eased into “pre-retirement.” Clint followed in 2013. He landed a job at Merrill Lynch, bought a house on Johns Island and made new friends during his six months in the Lowcountry.
Then a joke turned into a “silly” verbal dispute between Dalton Ellis Clarke and Seymour’s friends, said Ninth Circuit Assistant Solicitor Chad Simpson. Clarke, 24, “sprinted up and punched the first guy he saw,” Simpson said.
That was Seymour, the group’s designated driver. The blow knocked Seymour to the ground at approximately 1:40 a.m. His head hit concrete.
The phone rang at 2:25 a.m. on Seabrook Island.
“My wife said it was the police calling from the hospital,” said Don Seymour, Clint’s father. “Before she handed me the phone, I just knew. I knew he was gone.”
Clint Seymour never regained consciousness. Clarke, of Mount Pleasant, is charged with involuntary manslaughter.
To understand how a horrific family tragedy turned into a wonderful new Charleston-based, kid-friendly baseball foundation backed by a dad’s relentless devotion and a heartbroken big-league star, you have to look at all the snapshots Don and Mary Seymour have collected.
There they are, high school travel league teammates having a blast. Many of their favorite photos are of Clint with his best friend, a gifted kid who turned out to be Pittsburgh Pirates second baseman Neil Walker. They played ball together since they were 10, when several Pittsburgh-area fathers formed the Steel City Wildcats.
The core group of kids stuck together for years, traveling all the way to Florida. The day the Pirates made Walker the 11th overall pick in the 2004 draft, he and his Steel City Wildcats pals had a party at PNC Park.
Neil had signed with Clemson but opted for the Pirates’ $1.95 million signing bonus.
Clint went on to play at Eastern Kentucky.
“Clint and I wanted to make each other better and enjoy what we were doing,” Walker said by telephone from Pittsburgh. “Clint was one of those kids whose energy was through the roof. Kids looked up to him. Any time Clint was around, there were people smiling and laughing.”
That’s what Don Seymour wants to see from other kids. The non-profit Clint Seymour Play Ball Fund will make its debut Saturday at Pro Performance Athletics in Mount Pleasant, where Walker will run a hitting clinic for kids. An invitation-only restriction is designed to insure maximum quality time and instruction, foundation staples.
“I have to do what I can to keep my son’s memory alive,” said Don Seymour, a 68-year-old attorney. “I feel really dedicated to it and I’m really gratified that there are a lot of people supporting it.”
Seymour hopes to build ballfields in the Charleston area and in Pittsburgh. He wants to have more clinics, maybe mini-leagues. He plans to research the Lowcountry baseball scene and find needy organizations.
Walker is all in with the Play Ball Fund as a Vice President, and wouldn’t have it any other way. Baseball humanitarianism is in his blood as much as the game itself.
Neil Walker, in his sixth big-league season, hit a career-high 23 home runs in 2014 while helping the Pirates return to the playoffs. “The Pittsburgh Kid” has been a fan favorite since 2010. While still living with his parents, he became the first rookie to be the sole winner of the Roberto Clemente Award, presented by Pittsburgh baseball writers to honor the Pirates’ top player in the name of a franchise icon.
The Walker family is all about baseball. Older brother Matt played for South Carolina in 1999 before transferring to George Washington University and playing in the minors. Another brother, Sean, played at George Mason University. Chip Lang, an uncle on his mom’s side, pitched in the majors for two years for the Montreal Expos. Detroit Tigers utility player Don Kelly is married to Walker’s sister, Carrie.
Walker’s father Tom pitched in the majors from 1972-77 but is best known for a big heart and a fateful decision. While playing winter ball with Clemente in 1972, Walker helped the Pirates star outfielder load relief supplies onto a four-engine DC-7 airplane bound for earthquake victims in Nicaragua. Walker wanted to go on the New Year’s Eve flight, but Clemente talked him out of it.
The plane crashed just off the Puerto Rican coast, killing all five passengers.
“The biggest thing I got from my dad’s experience with baseball, and particularly the Clemente situation, is a perspective on life,” Walker said. “I was about 10 when my dad first told me that Clemente story; I don’t think I quite understood it at the time. But as I got a little older, I started to understand not just the significance of Roberto Clemente on the field but Roberto Clemente off the field. I became aware of the value of being not just a good baseball player but a good person, someone willing to help others. I had an understanding of the pedestal that comes with the realm of professional sports.”
Walker had just come off the field following a Pirates win in St. Louis last April 26 when he checked his text messages. From Don Seymour: “Contact me immediately.” As Walker ducked out of the clubhouse to respond, his wife Niki called in tears.
Two days later, Walker was in the hospital room at MUSC when doctors said there was nothing more they could do. Clint Seymour died on Monday, April 28, with five people at this bedside: parents Don and Mary Seymour, his sister Carly, Neil and Niki Walker.
In Pittsburgh, word spread quickly. The gregarious Clint was mourned by fellow diehard Pirates and Steelers fans. Some of them gathered at SoHo, a popular sports bar across the street from the Pirates’ PNC Park where Clint worked for a few years as a bartender.
The Pirates’ next two games, both in Baltimore, were rained out.
“I don’t think I’ve ever had two professional games rained out in a row,” Walker said. “My wife and I talked about that and we just thought it was so strange. By the grace of God … I was just a wreck Sunday, Monday and Tuesday. But there were so many instances during the season after Clint’s passing that I just felt he was with me.”
The Pittsburgh connections to Charleston and the Play Ball Fund go beyond Walker. A former minor leaguer who played for the 1986 Charleston Rainbows has offered to help. Roberto Clemente Jr.
In Charleston, Don and Mary Seymour came up with the foundation idea in the 45 minutes it took to drive from MUSC to Seabrook Island on the Monday afternoon Clint died.
“The whole thing just came to me,” Don Seymour said. “I knew it so, so well. All the baseball he played, all the friends he made through baseball, all the trips that we took. … I just knew he would want something done for other kids who love baseball.”
He remembered how excited Clint would get about visiting new baseball facilities. He thought of the time he called from an Eastern Kentucky road trip to talk about the dugout amenities at Tennessee’s Lindsey Nelson Stadium.
The Clint Seymour Play Ball Fund title and a mission statement were in place before the funeral. Soon after that, Neil and Niki Walker approached the Seymours.
“We still want to be part of your family.” Neil said.
Others have volunteered donations or to serve on the all-volunteer foundation board. Don Seymour has come to realize that family members aren’t the only ones in need of a healing process. He remains struck by Merrill Lynch employees who knew Clint only a month but who were at the hospital by 4:30 a.m.
“It’s not fair for parents to lose a 27-year-old son,” he said, “but it’s also not fair for a 27-year-old to lose his friends.”
Clint, his father said, loved Charleston “and the beach, the fishing, the road running.”
The Clint Seymour Play Ball Fund looks like an ideal conduit for the Lowcountry, a traditionally generous community with baseball popularity and baseball needs. Don Seymour is reaching out to local people to help point him in the right direction.
“We want to have baseball but also positive life lessons,” he said. “We don’t want anybody deprived of these opportunities because of their financial circumstances. And when kids come to one of our one-day camps, we want kids to say to their parents that it was the best day they’ve had all year. That’s what I’m looking for.”
Clint Seymour started giving back the minute he stopped breathing. Presented with his son’s wallet at the hospital, Don Seymour noticed two things.
“Most people don’t look very good in those driver’s license pictures,” he said, “but Clint looked great.”
And the organ donation symbol.
“The lungs were too damaged from the life-saving efforts,” Don said. “But Clint’s heart went to North Carolina. His liver went to Kentucky. His kidneys are here in South Carolina.”
All of the transplants were successful.
Family and friends intend to see to it that a young man’s passion for baseball keeps spreading smiles, too.
Follow Gene Sapakoff on Twitter @sapakoff