Since his death, MoBap baseball player Clay Pfeiffer's uniform has not been worn... until recently

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By Brad Cygan

Five years… That is how long it has been since the darkest day in Missouri Baptist Baseball history occurred. Grief was apparent, memories have been shared, and the memory of Clay Pfeiffer has stood the test of time. On Saturday, February 18, 2017, the distance of those memories came back into clear focus as Brandon Schlichtig stepped to the plate.

On an overcast Saturday afternoon in West County of St. Louis, Mo., it was a normal date on the 2017 Missouri Baptist Baseball schedule to the naked eye. To those, like Coaches Eddie Uschold and Kenny Graser, catcher Brandon Schlichtig and the family of Pfeiffer, it was much more. Perhaps the most unique, most unexplainable event to have occurred in their lives, happened on that day.

Five years ago, Clayton Pfeiffer, a freshman at Missouri Baptist, had begun classes and was preparing for his first season of collegiate baseball. He had joined a team which, came just one out away from the Avista-NAIA World Series for the first time in team history, a feat it would achieve the following season. It was an exciting year throughout, but began worse than anyone could have imagined.

You see, Clayton, before having the opportunity to wear the Missouri Baptist pinstripes in his first college game, was tragically killed in an auto accident just miles from campus. It was a day of disbelief in the Missouri Baptist campus community and a day of incomprehensible pain for the family and friends.

From that moment until the Spring of 2017, Clay’s No. 4 jersey went unworn.

Fast forward to the Fall of 2015 and the arrival of Brandon Schlichtig to Missouri Baptist. A transfer from Northeast Oklahoma A&M, he was one of Clay’s best friends and high school teammate at Vianney High School in South St. Louis County.

Schlichtig fought his way into the lineup under two senior catchers in the Spring 2016 season and by the dawn of 2017, he had both come back in the best shape of his playing career and proved to be one of the top catchers on the squad.

The beginning of his season was beyond impressive. Schlichtig hit nearly .500 in his first games of the season and had started six of the team’s first 10 games behind the plate. As the team headed home for its first series of the season at Spartan Baseball Field, it was a sense of anticipation for the team, but for several, it’s meaning was more.

For the last four years, the team had planned the Clay Pfeiffer Memorial Tournament, but for the last four years, weather failed to cooperate. After canceling two of the four years, plans were drastically changed, moving the games to nearby St. Charles Community College and even to Mayfield, Ky., just to play.

In 2017, the tournament was scheduled for the third weekend in February. Not known for its mild temperatures in the Winter, this season’s tournament did not hold much hope of being played again, until the weather took a strange turn.

St. Louis, and much of the Midwest experienced near record high temperatures in the week leading up to and on the scheduled tournament weekend. It was clear by early in the week that the tournament would finally be played in the Gateway City.

Plans for the tournament went forward and a banquet on Friday evening after the first three games of the weekend was held.

Most players in the room did not know Clay Pfeiffer. Most did not know his father, Dan Cinnichi. Most did not know Brandon Schlichtig or the story of Clay’s passing. That evening, a room of over 120 learned the story directly from those that knew both so well, and left those in attendance stricken with emotion.

Cinnichi had been there when Pfeiffer played for Vianney High School with Schlichtig on the team and they took fourth in the Class 4 Missouri State Championship his senior year, 2011 (photo shown left).

"He was the most dedicated, hardest-working kid I've ever been around," Chinnici told the day of the accident. "He seemed to defy the odds every step of the way."

But back to the banquet Friday night.

The highlight that evening was a simple gesture. It had been determined in the Fall that Schlichtig would be the first to wear the No. 4 as a memorial to his dear friend. That evening, Pfeiffer’s father placed the first No. 4 the team had ordered in four years on Schlichtig (photo, left).

It was a touching moment. The cycle was completed and things had seemingly come full circle. Little did anyone know that the events that were to transpire the following day would be that of legend.

Knowing how hot his backstop was, Coach Eddie Uschold penned Schlichtig’s name on his roster to start in the first game of the day on Saturday… in the cleanup spot.

Schlichtig watched from the dugout as leadoff hitter Aaron Collazo singled to leadoff the inning. He moved to the hole as second batter Culver Plant walked. Center fielder Drew Kitson walked too, as he stood in the on-deck circle on the first base side.

As he stepped to the plate, the fourth batter of the game for the Spartans (and of the inning), it wasn’t memories of the past, thoughts of Pfeiffer (shown left in the Missouri Baptist number four uniform), or any of the other elements that have made this story so impactful to many, that ran through Schlichtig’s head. It was to do his job at the plate and give his team a lead.

On a 2-1 count, Schlichtig did just that and sent a ball over the left field wall… a grand slam.

Fourth pitch of the at-bat, fourth batter, four RBI, swinging a Rawlings “Quattro” bat, Schlichtig (shown below, right) put his team up by four with one swing.

He did not realize any of it in the moment, didn’t think about the multiple appearances of the No. 4 or about Pfeiffer’s family watching from behind the backstop. He did not think about any of it until after reaching the dugout as the game continued.

In fact, most did not comprehend what just occurred outside of the sheer fact that with Clay’s number, his good friend had just hit one out after an emotional evening.

It was a story that could have been written and played out on a set in Hollywood, except no one would have believed it. It was too much coincidence…

Or was it providence?

No matter how you look at it, it was the divine and the unexplainable that occurred on that day. Nothing of this earthly realm can be used to describe the astronomical chances of these events aligning in just this way.

It was a light, shined-down from above.

Thanks Clay, for making your lasting impression on all of us.

Here's that home run...