I never met Stephen Gant.
Never saw him in person. Never watched him play a game. Truth be told, I never heard of him before last week.
I know this much, though: I’ll never forget his name.
Unfulfilled promise has a staying power to match or even exceed that of actual achievement, because the book is never closed, the questions never answered. The door to imagination and possibilities remains open eternally.
For those who still don’t know, Gant was a highly regarded high school pitcher from Parsons, Tenn., who apparently shot himself to death by the side of the road on Tuesday.
As often is the case, those who knew him said there was no indication of problems or the potential for such an incomprehensible act. A day earlier, in fact, he led his Riverside High School team to a victory when he allowed two hits from the mound and hit two home runs at the plate.
He already had signed a national letter-of-intent with Vanderbilt. Plus, he was eligible to be drafted in June by Major League Baseball and, according to some reports, had talent worthy of a first-round selection.
It’s the kind of background that has yielded several successful careers in recent years.
David Price. Mike Minor. Sonny Gray. Their names are etched in the history of Vanderbilt baseball and their professional baseball aspirations are in various stages of realization.
Gant was a good student. An involved member of his community. An inspiration to many who actually knew him.
His path was clear, although the ultimate destination was uncertain.
And now . . . this.
The particulars of the incident are different, but the emotional impact is similar to what followed Rajaan Bennett’s murder a little more than two years ago.
Bennett was a running back out of Georgia who planned to come to Vanderbilt. A cut above many of the other players the program signed before or since, he was a young man with the potential to change things for the long-suffering Commodores. More importantly, with the benefit of a top-notch education and the potential for professional football riches he was going to — one way or another — change things for his family, which had lost his father to murder several years earlier in Florida.
Then he was shot to death in a domestic violence incident.
I hadn’t really heard much about Bennett before that day, Feb. 18, 2010. I had never met him, seen him in person or watched him play.
But I’ve thought about him a surprising number of times since. It has happened as I’ve walked past Vanderbilt’s football stadium on a quiet weekday morning. Or it’s been when I was in the car listening to music. Whenever.
The name just comes into my head: Rajaan Bennett. I stop. I think of what might have been for a moment, sometimes more. Then I go back to my life and try to do a little bit better.
Bennett was a city kid who lived in metropolitan Atlanta. Gant was from a rural West Tennessee community that literally has a single red light. One was lost defending others. One apparently was lost in his own sense of hopelessness.
So different. Yet the feeling of loss is so familiar.
We all know fairy tales have happy endings. Yet in some cases the stories that have the most impact are those with unsettling conclusions.
A common storytelling device in movies is the scene where a character jumps into his or her car, turns the key and … nothing. It’s symbolic of a life going nowhere.
Gant’s body was discovered, according to a report, roughly 100 feet from his pickup truck. The vehicle was running.
Clearly, his was a life ripe with destinations.
It seems impossible to forget something like that.