Diamond is forever: Mom of late prep legend battles to name ballfield for son

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One mother’s quest to see her late son memorialized is now in the bottom of the ninth, some five years after the left-handed fireballer from New Jersey with big league dreams mysteriously died.

Rhonda Bachner said the field at West Windsor-Plainsboro North High is already unofficially named after her son, David, who was just 18 when he died of sudden cardiac arrest in August, 2009. His retired No. 16 jersey is buried beneath the mound, she said, and a bronze plaque touting the lofty accomplishments of “D Bach” stands near the bullpen. And while everyone in town calls the diamond "Bachner Field," the field remains officially nameless — for now.

"They thought this would go away, but it didn’t."

— Rhonda Bachner

“We’ve been trying to do this for five years,” Bachner told FoxNews.com of the effort to see the field officially dedicated to David. “They thought this would go away, but it didn’t. And now they finally come out with a proposal. But they know it’s already Bachner Field – there’s no question that’s his field.”

West Windsor-Plainsboro Regional School District officials said two open public forums to hear naming suggestions for the field have been scheduled for Aug. 12 and 18, with final action expected on those recommendations at another meeting on Sept. 23.

Gerri Hutner, a district spokeswoman, said officials received the formal request from Tim Hitchings, a Plainsboro resident whose son, T.J., proudly wore Bachner’s No. 16 embroidered into his hat while playing for the school’s freshman and junior varsity teams. Hitchings never met David, nor saw him set school career records with a 17-3 record, 1.50 ERA and 239 strikeouts, but both he and his son were touched by the legacy the 6-foot-2-inch southpaw left behind.

“Naming brings humanity to a thing,” Hitchings wrote on his blog. “Naming brings history to a thing. Naming provides a destination that can be remembered.”

By naming the varsity facility the David J. Bachner Field, Hitchings said visiting players will more easily recognize his contributions to the community on and off the field, as well as a chance to understand his budding greatness that was inexplicably cut short.

“Because in the sport of North baseball there may never be another athlete with the talent and potential of David Bachner and ensuring that North field bears his name alongside his marker is a fitting tribute,” Hitchings wrote. “Because it’s the right thing to do. For baseball. For David.”

Bachner’s death rocked the West Windsor and Plainsboro communities, with more than 3,500 people attending his wake, which was extended several hours so all mourners could be accommodated. It was also thrust into the national spotlight by writers like Sports Illustrated’s Tom Verducci, who wrote about Bachner alongside Greg Montalbano, another young pitcher whose life was cut far too short. Verducci, at the time, noted that the school had renamed its field David J. Bachner Field, although it had not yet been officially designated as such.

“I know the students unofficially have taken to naming the field for David, but it would be a fitting gesture by the school to honor him with official recognition,” Verducci told FoxNews.com via email.

Rhonda Bachner, meanwhile, like so many others in the area’s tight-knit baseball community, is wondering why the official naming hasn’t happened already. The fear of setting a precedent for other celebrated student-athletes who may pass away prematurely isn’t enough, she said.

“You’d think they’d want to give the community something to be happy about,” she said. “It’s been a struggle; the board has been blowing us off for years.”

Off the mound, where he dominated during his senior season to a 9-2 record with a 0.97 ERA, David Bachner was a solid, humble student who would “give you the shirt off his back,” his mother said. He had accepted a baseball scholarship at Seton Hall University and seemingly had the world in the palm of his left hand, with even bigger and brighter dreams ahead of one day playing for the New York Yankees.

“He had his whole life planned,” Rhonda Bachner said. “In his mind, this was how his life was going to be.”

Finally seeing the field where David dominated formally dedicated to him would provide Rhonda Bachner something she hasn’t had many of since that terrible morning when her son passed away.

“It would be sort of closure for us to know that that field was named after David,” she told FoxNews.com. “Everyone who played there would know who he was and it would be an extremely happy day for me. And for me to say happy, that means a lot — there’s never really a happy day when you lose a child.”

Please send comments and suggestions for names to WWPNamingRights@ww-p.org. All submissions will be reviewed by the ad hoc naming committee.