- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 23, 2014

ADA, Okla. (AP) - The locker where Chris Lane once got ready to play now sits empty on the campus of East Central University in Ada. All that’s left is his nameplate and a large black and white photo of the young man preparing to throw a baseball.

The locker is a memorial to Lane, an Australian who came to the United States to play baseball at the collegiate level.

Lane, 22, had just returned from a trip to Australia and was visiting his girlfriend’s parents in the southern Oklahoma city of Duncan when he was gunned down last August as he went for a jog. He died less than a day before he was scheduled to return to East Central to start his senior season. Four people have been charged in the killing, including three teenagers. One teen allegedly told authorities they did it because they were bored.

Lane’s death has left a void in the close-knit team whose coaches recalled Lane as a hard worker with a positive attitude who used baseball as a way to get an education.

“The fall was difficult and getting good synergy in the locker room, but the boys really, they came together and they supported one another. It was tough, and it still is,” Tigers coach Dino Rosato said during an interview in his office, later adding: “Chris was that guy you’d never know was having a bad day … Just a really positive influence not only on his teammates but me too. I always say I’m a better man for having the opportunity to be around him.”

Lane’s memory has never been far from his teammates’ and coaches’ minds throughout the season. They honor him before each game with a moment of silence and wear batting practice jerseys with his No. 7 on them. Large No. 7s have also been painted near the foul poles on the left and right sides of their home field. The Tigers are 26-20 so far this season.

Lane transferred to East Central in 2012 after starting out at Redlands Community College in El Reno. He started 14 games as catcher and hit .250 during the 2013 season.

In March, both schools retired Lane’s jerseys - No. 7 at East Central and No. 2 at Redlands - during a ceremony at East Central. Lane’s parents came from Australia for the event, and Lane’s girlfriend, Sarah Harper, was also in attendance.

“It was a good day. There were tears. There were smiles. There were laughs,” Rosato said.

Teammates remember Lane as a charismatic, fun-loving guy who became a team leader.

“It’s tough for the guys who did know him,” said Tigers pitcher Robert Buitrago. “Just having his presence …he was fun to be around with, so he always kept the dugout upbeat no matter how the game was going.”

Buitrago also turned to Lane for help off the field, seeking him out for advice about classes and help studying when he didn’t understand a concept. Lane, Buitrago said, was always more than willing to help him out.

Catcher Cale Russell said that although there are other players on the team who help keep spirits high, there was something different about Lane.

“You were just drawn to him. There was just something there about Chris that was just awesome. You were just automatically drawn to him, so it’s definitely different not having him here this season,” said Russell, a junior.


Follow Kristi Eaton on Twitter at https://twitter.com/kristieaton .

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