On June 17, Chris Singleton woke up as a 19-year-old with little to worry about. He recently finished his freshman year at Charleston Southern, where he started 45 of 53 games for the Buccaneers baseball team. Along with school, he had his family in Charleston, S.C., which included his mom, Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, 45, sister Camryn, 15, and brother Caleb, 12.
That night, Singleton played in his summer league game for the North Charleston Dixie Majors. After the game, he returned home. His mother was at the Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston, where she served as a minister. Late that Wednesday night, Singleton received a call informing him about some sort of shooting at the church. When Chris made it to the church, eight of the nine victims were already dead. Sharonda was one of them.
Singleton could have reacted with anger or hate or sadness. Instead, with the world crumbling around him and even adults unsure how to act, Singleton became a hero overnight.
The next morning, Charleston Southern head coach Stuart Lake called Singleton. Lake told Singleton the team wanted to get together that night and Singleton was welcome to come. Singleton thought things over and that evening, told Lake he would come speak to the media.
"It was 9:30 at night, so I maybe could get one or two local guys," Lake says of the media. "It ended up being a few more. When he asked to speak, I said all right and it was awesome."
To that point, Lake knew Singleton as his no-nonsense outfielder with a minister for a mother. However, he never expected Singleton to speak words that would calm a city and set a template for other communities.
Singleton, with the poise of a politician, addressed the horrors his family had endured and the memories his mother left. When reporters began asking questions, his charisma rose to the surface.
"Love is always stronger than hate," he said. "If we just love the way my mom would, the hate won't be anywhere close to what love is."
He answered another question: "We've come together as a community to try to get past these things. A tragedy has happened, but life's going to go on and things will get better."
On that same day, the first day Singleton and his siblings navigated life without their mother, the church gunman, Dylan Roof, was captured in Shelby, N.C., approximately 245 miles from the shooting. In a separate interview, when Singleton and Camryn were asked about Roof, Chris delivered remarks only few could fathom.
"We already forgive him for what he's done," Singleton said. "There's nothing but love from our side of the family."
"You just said you already forgive Dylan Roof, the man who killed your mother," the TV reporter responded.
"Yes, ma'am. We already forgive him ... Love is stronger than hate. And that's all I got to say."
In "Love is Stronger," part of ESPN's E:60 series, Camryn remembered what went through her mind when Chris forgave Roof.
"At first, I was like, are you kidding me, like seriously?" Camryn said. "After a while, I prayed on it and thought about it, and I was like maybe this is best because it's just a bad feeling to be consumed with hatred."
Chris, Camryn and Caleb all did what the family says their mother would have wanted them to do: Forgive. Sharonda was a minister and also a speech pathologist and girls high school track coach. Her life was about giving to others, and Chris refused to let his siblings get caught up in themselves. They could sulk or they could go on with their lives.
The most important part of the experience was to show this attitude to Charleston.
"I didn't want there to be -- 'cause you know how there's been riots and stuff like that -- I really didn't want that to happen," Singleton said in "Love is Stronger."
Think about that for a second. Think about Ferguson, Mo. Think about Baltimore. Then think about Charleston. In the face of a vicious mass shooting, Charleston did not unravel. In the wake of injustice, hope was not lost, but inspired. A 19-year-old with two younger siblings was left with no parents with an active role in his life and no closure for his loss. But Chris Singleton told his community to forgive. He told it to move on. Peace spread through the city. The Confederate flag finally came down from the South Carolina statehouse. Singleton kept playing baseball.
"I've been on the field at national championship games as a coach and I've never been more proud of a player than at that moment," Lake says, alluding to Singleton's July 18 speech. "He affected our whole state, immediately, Charleston, immediately."
No, Singleton is not the only reason Charleston held it together in the face of an adversity, but he certainly is an important one.
Fast-forward two months to the day of Sharonda's murder. Singleton was in New York on Monday, where he appeared on Today. Singleton did not know New York Yankees stars Alex Rodriguez, Brett Gardner and Dellin Betances were waiting for him on set.
As part of the Yankees' seventh annual HOPE Week (Helping Others Persevere & Excel), the team opened the week's festivities by honoring the Singleton family. Singleton threw a pitch to Betances on the Today set before Chris, Camryn, Caleb, Lake and close friends and family of the Singletons made their way to a private tour at One World Observatory. Yankees players Stephen Drew, Jacoby Ellsbury, Masahiro Tanaka, Justin Wilson and Chris Young, along with former Yankee Willie Randolph, joined the crew for the tour and lunch.
"They were talking about how strong I've been," Singleton said of the Yankees. "It's been an honor to be around them."
Singleton suited up in a HOPE Week T-shirt and pinstriped shorts -- the same warm-up clothes as the Yankees this week -- and took a few hacks in the batting cage. After fouling off the first few pitches and straightening out some line drives, Singleton drilled a ball over the left field fence.
"I haven't thrown the first pitch yet, but I guess I'll always remember I hit a bomb in BP," Singleton said when asked after batting practice what he would remember about the day.
Chris, Cameron and Caleb each threw out a first pitch before the Yankees faced the Twins in the Bronx. The Yankees also delivered the children a check with $5,000 each to the Mother Emanuel AME Church and the CSU Singleton Memorial Fund, the NCAA-approved charity set up by Charleston Southern in Sharonda's name.
As a child, Singelton lived in Atlanta, where he attended Braves games. He says his father gave him some Yankee fandom in his youth but his dad, also named Chris, does not have an active role in Singleton's life. On Monday, Singleton also met some Twins, notably Joe Mauer and Torii Hunter, and had the Yankees critiquing his swing.
Singleton bonded with Gardner, who played at the College of Charleston. A South Carolina native, Gardner shagged fly balls with Singleton and delivered the pregame check in front of the Yankee Stadium crowd (Lake said Gardner reached out to his old coach about Singleton before Monday).
"This is cool because now it gets out of our state and everyone knows it," Lake said of Singleton's story.
But even Singleton could not let loose with the most valuable baseball franchise in the world hosting him for a day. Sharonda is gone and with that, Singleton feels constant responsibility.
"I've actually pulled him aside a few times and said, hey, make this event about you," Lake said before first pitch. "He won't. It's about his brother and sister. And when he says that, he has quickly assumed the parent role. I've tried to pull him away a few times recently, hit in the cage and stuff, but he won't let go. What y'all are seeing is what he's been like through this time."
In two months, Singleton has become an inspiration for people across the country. Singleton is the kid who acted with the level-head adults have seemed to forget in similar recent incidents. While his legend grew, Singleton went on with his summer, playing baseball for his North Charleston travel team. Academically, he will go on with his sophomore year at Charleston Southern. He will go on mentoring his siblings. No, he is not a celebrity or a presidential candidate or a star athlete -- yet -- but he is an unlikely American hero.
From his speech on the baseball field in Charleston to his day with the Yankees, Singleton has constantly been called a role model. Hunter, on the Yankee Stadium field, even told Singleton he is a role model.
The only person who challenges such an assertion is Singleton.
"That's what people keep saying," he says. "I don't know if I'm a role model. I feel honored when someone says that to me."
It is evident Singleton is uncomfortable with the attention he receives. Maybe it's because he just did what he thought was the right thing to do -- he did what his mother would have wanted him to do.
From a career standpoint, Singleton is hoping his first home runs (he hit multiple) at Yankee Stadium batting practice will not be his last. Sharonda spent every moment she could watching Singleton play baseball, and she was supportive of his decision to play in college. She was even luckier that he stayed close to home. Singleton knows if she could speak to him now, she would tell him to keep following his dream on the diamond.
Ima die hard Red Sok but klassy move by da Yanks for da 1st pitch
— Lil Wayne WEEZY F (@LilTunechi) August 18, 2015
At least his coach believes his ceiling is high.
"Baseball is not just a sideshow," Lake says of Singleton. "I really feel he has the tools to continue. You know how the majors are, you have to get a break here and there to move up. He was, prior to the year, a guy who has a chance to play at the next level. The character that he's shown is only going to make him better as a baseball player."
The effect the past two months has had on Chris Singleton's growth is undeniable. Perhaps even more influential is the effect he had on Charleston and the world. Singleton gave peace a chance and he has not been let down since. He preached peace and he is at peace.
Love is stronger than hate.
-- Follow Jeffrey Eisenband on Twitter @JeffEisenband.