Every time shortstop Sean Kearney takes the field for Knoxville Catholic, he thinks of his father.
Kearney, the Irish’s ETSU-bound slugger, finds his father, David, in the stands. He won’t take the sight for granted; his dad’s cancer diagnosis in the fall changed his outlook on life.
“You don’t realize over the years how much you really take for granted,” Sean said. “You see your life flash before your eyes when you hear something as simple as that.”
David Kearney, a pharmacist, was diagnosed with melanoma in August. The same week, his oncologist found a lump that turned out to be Stage 2 breast cancer.
Hearing the diagnosis for the first time shocked David. Telling his wife and sons was even harder.
“That was a really hard day,” he said. “But the boys have really been strong and continue to live their daily lives. That’s what you’ve got to do, you’ve just got to keep going every day. They’ve been a really good support group for me.
The news gave Sean, the younger of the two Kearney boys, to play with an added purpose.
“It’s just motivated me day in and day out to come out here and play for him,” Sean said. “I know he fought for me when he was in the hospital. It’s made it a tough journey this year, but it’s been a good one.”
Sean recalled the Irish’s game against Cascade in the state semifinals during his sophomore year. David was in the crowd to see Sean hit the game-winning, two-run single in the 14th inning. The two hugged afterwards - an embrace that still sticks with him to the day.
“He inspires me day in and day out,” Sean said. “You don’t realize what he went through until you sit down and try to process it. You’re like, ‘How can this be real?’ It stopped in December, but really it’s never going to stop. It’s always going to be with us.”
David underwent two surgeries and takes a daily medication to keep the cancer cells at bay. It gives him some fatigue and aches.
“Sort of like you’ve got arthritis a bit,” he said.
Father and son savor their time together. The Kearney family makes it a point go to the movie theater a few times each month. They most recently saw Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.
“It was really good,” David said, smiling.
They’re open about their lives: dad about his work life and his health, and son about school.
“Cancer definitely teaches you to appreciate each day a little bit more,” David said. “You appreciate your family a little bit more. The little things you worried about maybe aren’t as important as they used to be.”
Catholic's season just ended Tuesday with an extra-inning loss to Pigeon Forge in the region tournament. However, the Kearneys still occasionally hit in the batting cages at Catholic.
"Everything I do for him is in honor of what he went through," Sean said.
“I’m glad it motivates him,” David said. “It makes you proud as a dad. I think I’ve done a good job of raising him. He’s got a good heart. I really love watching him play, and I’m glad he’s thinking of me when he’s out there playing.”