D.J.'s Magic Towel
Sept. 20, 2004
During the Broncos run to the conference final in 2001, a sweaty towel was worn around the neck of manager D.J. Frandsen and then placed in plastic to be used for the next game. It would not be washed for fear of removing the mojo that would get Santa Clara back to the post season. After coming back from 19 down against Pepperdine in the second round I have to admit to giving the towel minimal credit while deferring to the play of seniors Brian Jones and Jamie Holmes in one final desperate quest to reach the "Big Dance."
While following those guys that weekend, it was hard not to get caught up in some sort of "team of destiny" with Jones closing in on the scoring record and reaching his ultimate goal after five years. It was all too perfect and if some credit had to go to an inanimate piece of cloth, then so be it.
However, for those who knew the truth, there was no magic in that towel; it existed in the man who wore it.
It seemed all too often I'd get a call or e-mail, "D.J. is sick again." Inside I knew everything would work out. It always had since he first endured as a six-year-old, causing him to lose a kidney and underwent 18-months of chemotherapy. Right after kindergarten! Cancer could kill most, but not D.J. Frandsen.
The cancer would return three years later, then again after high school. This time it had spread from his diaphragm to his groin and was wrapped around his aorta. It would be beaten again after 10 hours of surgery, 18 months of chemo and one transplant. He would carry the Olympic torch in 2002 as a symbol of courage, hope and inspiration.
The players knew their angst over term papers and scouting reports couldn't compare with real pain. Over the years, seniors at the end of the year banquet would use D.J.'s story to put their own lives in perspective.
"I've known about D.J's situation for the last 8 years going back to West Valley," said former Bronco Darrell Teat. "His dad was an assistant and D.J. started coming around the team. I think a lot of our success had to do with him being around. A lot of junior college players are worried about `getting mine' in order to get a scholarship. That team went 33-3 and at one point was number one in the country. There was an attitude of "family" that came from Dave Frandsen and his son and it trickled down to us.
"You would never see D.J. have a down day and he had every reason to. You could tell at one point the family wanted to be down but D.J. wouldn't let them. His brother has done well in baseball and I'm sure D.J. really encouraged him a lot. I used to call him the mayor because everybody knew who he was."
D.J.s brother, Kevin went to San Jose State as an overachiever who became the school's all-time hits leader and later was taken by the San Francisco Giants in the 14th round f the Major League Draft. Kevin told the San Jose Mercury News last May that his brother was a driving force in his own success.
"There are times when I'm on deck, and I'll look up and think, `Are you kidding me? He's here?"
He was there... to support Kevin despite battling cancer again. This time, the cancer attacked one of the areas where his kidney used to be. During a conversation I asked him if he ever said, "Why me?" He'd smile and say that thought came up once or twice but he chose not to look at things that way. HOW COULD HE NOT?
"My lasting impression of him is that he never complained about his condition or medical problems," said Head Coach Dick Davey." He may have complained about guys not putting their towels away or not playing hard enough but never about how he was doing."
In May of 2002, Frandsen received the Jim Jennings award, given to a non-athlete that is most distinguished for unselfish and loyal service to the Athletics Department. In quoting from the story, "Frandsen's unbelievable dedication and support embodies what "J.J.-as most of us came to know Jennings-meant to the athletic department." He was much more than a team manager; he was a spirit who made the players put their own problems in perspective.
I write this with a tear trickling onto the keyboard. You see, before reading the e-mail of D.J.'s death, I was stressed out with the problems of Bay Area life. There is a cable bill to be paid and a 13-year-old daughter causing an occasional gray hair to sprout. There is a paper to write, chapters to study, a dog to walk and endless home repairs. The tears are shed for D.J. almost as much as my own guilt.
There was no magic in that towel; it existed in the man who wore it. Goodbye, D.J. I should have known it was you all along.