By Maren Angus
Taylor Kowalski grew up on the ball field. Her dad, PJ, volunteered at Chet Waggoner Little League in South Bend, Indiana, and from the day he signed her up for t-ball they shared a love for softball.
PJ continued volunteering for Little League after his daughter stopped playing there but their bond with the sport continued. She played throughout high school and he decided that as a graduation present, he would surprise her with tickets to the 2018 Women’s College World Series. He put the deposit down for two all-session passes, booked the hotel room and then on Nov. 9, 2017, their plans changed.
“He was out mowing the grass at my Little League,” Kowalski said with tears rolling down her cheeks. “He did all the maintenance. He got off the mower and they think he had a heart attack. It was completely unexpected.”
PJ didn’t make it and Nov. 10, is a date that Taylor will never forget. It was the day she got the call.
A daughter had to bury her father on Nov. 14, 2017. Life continued and when it started to settle, Taylor and her mother, Stacie Garcilazo, decided they would honor PJ and make the 12 and a half-hour drive to Oklahoma City for the WCWS.
“We had to fulfill that dream,” Garcilazo said. “It’s been a wonderful experience –bittersweet because I wish he could be here with her but I’m glad I could still fulfill that dream of hers to come.”
When PJ wasn’t mowing the grass or watching his daughter play ball, he was an umpire. According to Garcilazo, he was supposed to be an umpire at the Little League World Series this year.
Kowalski was raised in a Notre Dame household so watching Florida State represent the ACC has been fun to watch for her, but she doesn’t think that’s who her dad is watching from up above.
“His favorite color was purple,” Taylor laughed. “So that’s who I’m pulling for (Washington).”
The mother and daughter have enjoyed every second of their trip in Oklahoma City. Kowalski never thought she would she get the chance to watch this tournament in person. She, like many others, had the dream of playing on the field but said, “The view from the other side of the fence is pretty cool too.”
As the two took a second to reflect on their trip, they talked about how great the people are and how they have created a family-type atmosphere out in right field.
“Everybody is here for the same reason,” Garcilazo said. “We are all getting along and cheering for the same teams – or not the same team. It’s just been fun.”
As Kowalski looked back out into the stadium, she knew that her dad made the trip with her even if he wasn’t here physically.
“I know he’s looking down and having a great time with us,” she said. “He’s probably sitting behind that plate making those calls too.”