By Andrew Johnson

RAVENNA – Sometimes tragedy can be a source of inspiration.

That’s been the case for Ravenna senior baseball pitcher Brian Thompson, who has been playing in memory of his best friend, Peter Kubasiak.

The two boys knew each other from the time they were toddlers, grew up together, and spent countless hours with each other. Thompson spent a lot of nights at the Kubasiak home over the years, and calls Peter’s mother “Mom.”

Brian Thompson, left, and his best friend Peter Kubasiak in happy times. Peter lost his life in a tragic accident in 2016.

They competed against each other in little league, when their dads were rival coaches, and played a year of travel baseball together.

They were looking forward to becoming varsity teammates last season, when Thompson was a junior and Peter was a sophomore. The team ordered uniforms before the season, and Peter had chosen his jersey number – 17.

“He was going to be a middle infielder and pitcher,” said Ravenna baseball coach Paul Herremans.

But those plans were shattered on Feb. 4, 2016, when Peter Kubasiak and his two sisters were involved in a tragic accident on Heights-Ravenna Road.

Erika Kubasiak, 10, died that day. Peter passed away six days later. Their oldest sister, Emily, survived.

So Thompson went on to play his junior season without his friend, and became a very good varsity pitcher, with a sparkling 1.28 ERA and 41 strikeouts over 60.3 innings.

He’s been even better this season. He recently had an 8-1 record with a nearly invisible 0.66 ERA, and had only allowed five runs in 53 innings with 56 strikeouts and only 11 walks.

Thompson’s pitching is a big reason why Ravenna posted a 20-10-1 overall record in the regular season this spring, and finished in second place in the West Michigan Conference with an 11-3 mark.

Thompson and the Bulldogs will begin the state tournament on Tuesday, when they face Shelby in a pre-district contest at North Muskegon High School. The winner will advance to Saturday’s district tournament while the loser will call it a season.

Thompson says he thinks about the accident that took Peter Kubasiak’s life every day. He says he’s determined to honor his friend every time he takes the mound.

“He was my best friend,” Thompson said. “I think about it all the time.

“I used to be over at his house half the time. It hasn’t been as much since the accident, but I still feel like his parents are my second parents. I always call her mom.”

“I think of him every single practice and game. We have his jersey hanging up in our dugout, and his dad is our assistant coach. His mom comes and watches us play.

“It’s pretty much like I’m not playing for myself, but playing for both of us.”

Staying in the game

Thompson has two big fans whenever he takes the mound – John and Annie Kubasiak, Peter’s parents.

John Kubasiak, Ravenna’s assistant baseball coach, remembers all the years watching Thompson and his son growing up together and bonding, on the baseball diamond and off.

“They were real close,” Kubasiak said. “We’ve known his family for years because we took Peter and his sister to a day care that was run by Brian’s mom. As they grew up, they grew even closer. The summer before the accident, Brian and his dad stayed a couple of months in an RV in our driveway.

Brian Thompson stands with his father, Robert Thompson before a recent game. Photo/Leo Valdez

“I coached little league and Brian’s dad coached little league, so they never got to play on the same team. When they were about 11 or 12, they played together in an All-Star tournament, and eventually played one year of travel together. They were going to play travel ball together on the West Michigan RipTide.

“They were competitive with each other, but they had a supportive relationship.”

Even though his own grief, John Kubasiak noticed how painful the loss was for Thompson, particularly last season, in the months following the accident.

“Brian told Coach Herremans a few times that he just couldn’t play because Peter was on his mind,” he said. “I think sometimes it’s easy to forget that everything we go through, these kids go through too. You try to be there, but sometimes it’s hard for them to open up.”

Kubasiak said Herremans asked him to be an assistant coach the winter before the 2016 season, not long before the accident. He said he was hesitant at first, because his oldest daughter, Emily, was going to be a senior on the varsity softball team, and he didn’t want to miss her games.

Yet he was also excited about the thought of helping the varsity baseball team, and working with his son.

Thompson gets a hug from His mother Brandy Klapatch. Photo Leo Valdez

“I asked Emily, and she said I had to coach, because I’d get three years with Peter,” Kubasiak said. “When the accident happened, I told Coach that I couldn’t help. But when the first game came, something told me I should be there.

“Once I’m with the boys, everything is great. The only real hard thing has been driving home after practice and games, especially at first. When we played at Fifth Third Ballpark, I was thinking of how Peter would’ve loved to play on that field.”

Kubasiak said he and his wife have reached out to Thompson since the accident, so he knows he’s still a valued friend of the family and welcome at their home.

“He’s come over a few times,” Kubasiak said. “At first he couldn’t, though. He kind of stayed away. We finally convinced him to come over and have dinner. I ended up actually taking his senior pictures this year.

“We miss having the kids over at the house. Before the accident it seemed like every football Friday we had a house full of kids over, getting ready. We don’t see them much anymore. I think I kind of miss that the most. It’s nice that we’ve re-established that with (Thompson) and a few of Emily’s friends.”

Kubasiak is particularly proud of Thompson’s development as a pitcher.

“Brian was supposed to be the number three or four starter last year, but it changed because he throws strikes,” Kubasiak said. “He was so good last year, and he’s been dominant this year, because he doesn’t walk people.”

Last leg of a great varsity career

Thompson has been a huge plus for his team because of his maturity on the mound, according to Herremans, the longtime Ravenna varsity baseball coach.

“He’s become pretty efficient at understanding hitters, and he’s developed his curveball, which is way better than what he had last year,” Herremans said.

“At this point I’m pretty confident when I give him the ball. He really doesn’t get hit hard.”

Thompson takes a breather during a recent game. Photo/Leo Valdez

Thompson said he’s become a better overall pitcher this year because he doesn’t always focus on strikeouts.

“I try to make it so hitters don’t square the ball,” Thompson said. “That way I get weak fly balls and ground balls. I used to get strikeouts, but now I’m pitching to contact.

“My curveball breaks a lot this year. I’ve kind of figured it out. I worked on it over the offseason and made sure to get on top of it, which helps the break.”

Thompson said he’s learned a lot from his father, Robert Thompson, a former Grand Valley State University pitcher who coaches his son’s travel team.

“He was a lefty pitcher and struck everyone out,” Thompson said about his dad. “He’s helped a lot. He coached me growing up and has coached my travel team. He’s my idol and (baseball) brings us closer and gives us a common interest.”

Thompson will be relied on heavily as the Bulldogs try to repeat as Class C district champions this season. He said he would very much like to take that accomplishment at least one step further this spring, and help Ravenna win districts and regionals in his final few games of varsity baseball.

“I think we’re all looking forward to getting past districts and getting far in regionals,” he said.

Thompson will move away from the baseball field and focus on his studies in the fall, when he enrolls at Central Michigan University,

“After my success this year I thought about playing in college, but I’d only want to play at Central, and that’s Division I, so it’s not likely,” he said.

“I thought I’d go to Michigan State, but it was too city. Central has that small town feel but a big campus. I’m looking forward to majoring in something with business. It’s always interested me.”