Kent Wilson was with his dad when the oncologist told him there was nothing else that could be done, that his liver cancer was going to kill him, that he needed to get his affairs in order and arrange for hospice care.
After receiving the grim news, Wilson and his dad left the doctor’s office and walked to their car.
“How’d you like to have that job?” Richard Wilson asked his son. “Telling people that they’re gonna die?”
Kent told that story during his dad’s eulogy, figuring it highlighted one of Richard Wilson’s best characteristics: his tendency to think of others before he thought of himself. And Kent told the same story to me this week, when I asked what he’d done with his Nats season tickets.
See, Kent and his dad have shared their love of the Nationals since the team arrived in 2005. They went to 15 or 20 games last season, most after the elder Wilson was diagnosed with advanced cancer of the liver in May. Ordering 2013 season tickets was one of many nods toward optimism, a public declaration that Richard would be around longer than his diagnosis predicted.
They got two seats in section 310, splitting the full-season package with one of Kent’s college friends. By April, Richard Wilson – a lifelong Washingtonian who grew up going to Senators games with his father – was in poor health. Still, father and son went to Opening Day together, seeing Bryce Harper’s first-inning homer and leaving around the time he hit his second. That was the first and only time they used the seats together.
As the season progressed and his father’s health deteriorated, Kent gave away their tickets to family members and friends, often going to his father’s home in Centreville so they could watch the Nats together.
“After work I’d come over and watch the games with him pretty much every night,” Kent told me. “We didn’t really talk a whole lot. He’d complain about Drew Storen sometimes. Some of his friends would come over, and four or five people would squeeze into his bedroom, watching his TV. It was a nice thing for us to do.”
But Kent couldn’t bring himself to go to the stadium and sit in their seats without his dad. His father – the longtime Deputy Sergeant of Arms of the U.S. House of Representatives — had been a high school baseball star at Suitland High, where he was teammates with Ray Miller. He had gone to all of Kent’s high school games at Patuxent High in Southern Maryland, even though he lived in Western Fairfax.
Kent still has a voice mail message saved on his phone from his dad, when he scored seats to Game 5 of last year’s NL Divisional Series. Now that they finally had season tickets, Kent wasn’t going to use them without his dad.
He felt the same way after his father died on June 8. And while it was nice to give the tickets to his friends, Kent also felt like he should be reaching out to people who wouldn’t ordinarily visit Nats Park.
So last week, he took his final eight sets of tickets and advertised them on Craigslist. He wrote that they were free, in honor of his dad, whose photo was included in the ad. But in the first two days, he fielded just one inquiry.
Then Kent sent the listing to Danny Rouhier, a mid-day host on 106.7 The Fan. Soon, other media members began tweeting out the link and writing about the gesture. Within a few days, Kent received about 200 e-mails.
Some people wanted the tickets, but some just wanted to thank him for the gesture. Many included stories about their own fathers. One e-mailer said his dad always turned down invitations to Nats Park, but that he thought he would make an exception if he heard Kent’s story. Someone else had a dad who was having a birthday. Another person’s father had pancreatic cancer.
“The response I got was really overwhelming,” Kent said. “People had so many nice stories about their dads. I really didn’t expect that.”
The eight sets of tickets quickly disappeared, but there were so many more e-mailers, dozens and dozens. So Kent checked to see how many Red Carpet Reward points he had. Turned out his 1,000 points were enough to get 10 more sets of tickets to a mid-August game against the Giants. He redeemed all the points, and gave away 10 more sets.
Then a woman e-mailed about a silent auction to raise money for the family of her brother, who had died suddenly, leaving a wife and three children. So Kent bought another set of tickets, plus a parking pass, and sent them to her for the auction. His dad, he thought, would have been pleased.
“He was always really generous, always about making other people happy,” said Kent, a 32-year old lobbyist from Ashburn. “You only live once, right? Money’s there to be spent.”
Now the tickets are all gone. So are the Red Carpet reward points. And Kent still hasn’t been back to Nats Park since Opening Day.
“I feel like he would want me to watch the games, and I know he’d want me to go, too, but it’s just too hard,” he told me. “Sitting in those seats, I don’t know. It would be really sad. I don’t think I’d enjoy it.”
But while this wasn’t the point, giving away the tickets to perfect strangers with their own stories about dads and baseball made it easier for Kent to think about going back to Half Street. Maybe, he said, he’ll try again next year. Maybe he’ll even get season tickets again, in a different location.
“It turned out to be therapeutic,” he said. “I really just was trying to get rid of the tickets. I was trying to be generous, but I was also trying to get rid of the tickets. But it was a lot bigger than I thought it would be. And it was a lot more helpful than I thought it would be.”