On the fateful morning of Jan. 17, Nicholas Grass ’05 knew, without asking, that his best friend Zachery Bradley ’05 was hungry. So, as was typical of the Yale baseball pitcher, Grass offered Bradley the last bite of his sandwich.
That was the last time the two friends spoke.
“If Nick had his way, there would be no tears cried today,” Bradley told a filled Battell Chapel at Grass’ memorial service Sunday afternoon.
A month and a half after Grass’ death, friends and family gathered to pay tribute to a Yalie who every speaker remembered as a true and passionate friend.
Grass, 19, of Holyoke, Mass., was one of four Yale students who died after their sport utility vehicle crashed into a jackknifed tractor-trailer rig on Jan. 17. Andrew Dwyer ’05, Sean Fenton ’04 and Kyle Burnat ’05 also died in the crash.
Between interludes of country music — a musical genre Grass learned to appreciate while at Yale — Grass’ friends and teammates, as well as his mother and two sisters, spoke at length about his commitment to friends and his fun-loving attitude.
“Nick was always the guy who would run into a friend’s fight, and — he would be the first one to get knocked out,” Nicholas Campbell ’05 said.
C.J. Orrico ’05, Grass’ teammate, recounted a dream he had during the difficult days after the accident. Orrico said he dreamed he was walking on a beach with members of the baseball team, and Grass pulled him aside to talk. In the dream, Grass told Orrico not to grieve or worry because he and the three other Yale students killed in the accident were “in an amazing place right now having fun.”
“He then hugged me, told me that he loved me and told me to wake up,” Orrico said. “I know Nick was with me that night.”
Several speakers talked about Grass’ enjoyment of karaoke, including his well-known “We Didn’t Start the Fire” routine, in which Grass would lip-sync and dance to the Billy Joel song.
“Nick Grass was always having more fun than you were,” Delta Kappa Epsilon President Nicholas Sinatra ’03 said. “He is eternally one-upping all of us.”
Even in Spanish, Grass’ least favorite subject, his zest for life stood out.
“Forget ‘seize the day,’” Spanish professor Sybil Alexandrov said. “With Nick it was ‘seize the nanosecond.’”
Alexandrov said although Grass struggled in Spanish, he worked hard and “gave it his all.”
Elliot Robson ’05, Grass’ roommate of two years, also spoke about Grass’ more serious side.
“Although he loved to go out at night, he was also a hardworking guy,” Robson said. “He was someone who every bit of life meant something to.”
Grass’ efforts extended beyond the classroom. Yale baseball coach John Stuper remembered Grass’ commitment on the baseball field. Although he was a pitcher, Grass offered to fill in for one of the team’s best hitters in case of an injury, Stuper said.
“His bullpen was major-league quality,” Stuper said. “He was going to be a starter this year for sure.”
Catina Grass, Nicholas Grass’ mother, spoke about her son’s frequent late-night phone calls — a habit of Grass’ that several speakers mentioned.
“He would frequently call home in the middle of the night, just to share his enthusiasm about whatever it was he was doing at the time,” Catina Grass said.
Stuper also read a letter from Grass’ father, who was unable to attend the service. In the letter, William Grass recounted that while it was one of the last schools to be interested in his son’s pitching, Yale was always Nicholas’ first choice.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen Nick so happy or myself so proud as the day he got his acceptance letter,” William Grass said in the letter.
William Grass asked his son’s friends to “remember his keen wit, determination and zest for life.”
“I’ll make sure to bring my catcher’s gear when I see you next,” his father promised.