ORDERVILLE, Kane County — It was no coincidence that the Valley High School Buffaloes dedicated their new baseball stadium on 9/9/09, the same day they retired uniform No. 9.
After all, 9 was Jeff Wood's number.
Jeff, 15, died in July after he was hit by a baseball during practice.
The entire Wood family and most of the school's students were there Wednesday to honor Jeff's life. His retired jersey hung in the team's dugout.
"His jersey travels with us, and they call the jersey 'Jeffrey,' " said baseball coach and science teacher Bret Lamb. "Come game time someone will say, 'Grab Jeff.' "
The team also unveiled a new banner hanging in right field that displays Jeff's name and number.
"He died just past second base," Heather Wood said of her son as she pointed out onto the field.
A plaque honoring Jeff was given to his family during the game. The memorial will hang in the school's new concessions stand.
On a more personal level, each team member displayed the initials "JW" on his uniform sleeve. And the Valley High School baseball players have dedicated their season to their departed teammate.
"They've got these practice T-shirts that say, 'Finish it. This one's for Jeff.' That's kind of their theme," said Jeff's father, Jim Wood, who is also the principal at Valley High. "They've also got their little orange rubber wristbands that say the same thing."
The student council at the school also has dedicated each monthly assembly to one of Jeff's character traits.
"The student council got together … they told the student body that 'Jeff lived his life in this way, and we would like to use that as inspiration as how to live our lives,' " said school counselor and basketball coach Dustin Shakespear.
"It's a really nice tribute to Jeff because that's how we want to live our lives."
Jeff, the eldest of six in his family, loved farming, fishing, cell phones, Facebook and playing sports with his buddies. His family says he had already saved a good chunk of money to serve a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints one day. He'd just received his learner's permit and was always anxious to get into the driver's seat.
On that day in late July, Jeff complained of a side ache when he arrived at practice but still went out to catch some fly balls. After taking his position in the outfield, he was hit in the side by a line drive and collapsed. An off-duty sheriff's deputy performed CPR within seconds. Jeff was taken to a nearby hospital but could not be resuscitated.
"It must have been his time to go home," his mother said at the time.
The family is still unsure why he died and is awaiting toxicology results to determine whether he may have had an existing condition that was aggravated by the impact of the ball.
"We were looking through some of his notebooks and stuff," Heather Wood said Wednesday, "and he had written 'Valley Baseball #1 next year.' "
And although the Buffaloes lost Wednesday's game with Panguitch High by two runs, the coach says his players are definite winners.
"They were boys when we started the season," Lamb said. "They've since transformed into young men."
Perhaps the most poignant tribute to the Alton, Kane County, youth came during the first pitch Wednesday.
There was no right fielder.
Homage to a fallen teammate.
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