By: Alexis Brudnicki
Canadian Baseball Network
Baseball is a game that can be so much more.
It is the sport that introduced many fortunate people to Michelle McRae.
Michelle passed away last Saturday, and her 46-year-old life was celebrated one week later. Friends and family filled the Patterson Funeral Home in Niagara Falls on Saturday night, before a service and reception, with people lining up throughout every room of the large venue waiting for a turn to pay respect to her family.
Many knew her, and some didn’t, but even those who never had a chance to speak to Michelle could feel her impact. She had touched everyone in some significant way, whether it was through her own direct interaction, or through that of her husband of 20 years and best friend for three more than that, Mike, 17-year-old daughter Madison, or 14-year-old son Mason.
A number of friends managed the courage to speak about Michelle during the service, highlighting the strength she found throughout her struggle with the disease she eventually succumbed to. They spoke of her courage, her incredible personality, and her ability to make anyone around her feel better, no matter what they were going through. They continually touched on three things that were of the utmost importance to Michelle, her faith, her friends and her family.
Her friends touched on the fact that her faith helped her through some of the toughest times, of which there seems to be no doubt that only Michelle really knew how tough they were. Michelle’s faith also helped her friends see her through her tough times, helping them understand and find strength for her, learning from her journey and growing together along the way.
Michelle always had time for the very large circle of friends that over the years she just made bigger and bigger. Annual birthday dinners with an intimate group of ladies turned into large reservations that sometimes restaurants couldn’t handle. Those friends talked about Michelle’s honesty, her ability to always say what needed to be said, her positivity and happiness, and the love she shared with those around her. They also asked that instead of shedding tears for the great loss experienced, that Michelle’s life be celebrated and enjoyed by those in attendance.
Most of all, Michelle loved her family. She enjoyed every moment, just hanging out together, taking Mason to hockey and baseball, bringing Madison to soccer, and heading to Canisius College to watch her husband over the years as he took a broken down baseball program and turned it into two-time Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference champions in just over a decade.
“Michelle was at every home game I can remember, and a lot of our tournaments,” several former Golden Griffs players said. “She was one of the nicest women I have ever met.”
The baseball community gathered together on Saturday, with the coach’s current team, former players, guys he once suited up with, their families, friends, fans, parents, scouts, and executives in attendance.
Old stories were shared, memories brought into the light, and then of course, a steady stream of questions from Mason to Blue Jays assistant general manager Andrew Tinnish, whom Mike coached at Brock University two decades ago, and had flown back for from Toronto’s trip to New York.
With his quest to someday be the GM of a major league team, Mason grilled Tinnish about contract extensions for Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion, he asked about re-signing David Price, he was curious about the trade for Troy Tulowitzki, and also why one never happened for Carlos Carrasco, he wanted to know why Danny Valencia was dealt, and he asked about the soon-to-be president Mark Shapiro.
When Shane Davis, a native of Belmont, Ont., and the Blue Jays 42nd-round pick in 2011 out of Canisius College, joined the conversation, Mason asked Tinnish why Toronto had released the southpaw after two years on the farm.
It would seem as though his mother’s ability to ask the hard-hitting questions did not skip a generation.
Things will be different now for the McRae family, and more than they have been over the last year. Mike will keep leading the newest team of Griffs, hoping for a second consecutive conference championship after losing his three top players to graduation and the draft.
The Demske Sport Complex is unlikely to be the same without one of its biggest supporters, and the McRae household is missing its leader.
“I might be the coach,” Mike said at the service for his wife. “But in our house, Michelle was the GM and the captain.”
But Michelle left behind a seemingly endless support system. Her personality brought everyone in and kept no one out. She has a never-ending circle of friends and loving family, and then of course, the McRae family has the full support of the baseball community.
For those interested in helping or supporting the McRaes, the Canisius College athletic department has set up a GoFundMe account to assist with medical expenses incurred and to supplement Madison and Mason’s education funds.