Turning tragedy into progress, Trautwein delivers

Updated 1/29/2015 4:27 PM

John Trautwein is making his most important pitches 25 years after throwing the final ones of his professional baseball career.

During a seven-year stint in pro ball, Trautwein achieved his boyhood dream when he made nine relief appearances for a 1988 Boston Red Sox team that won the American League East title. It was an experience you hear many people say they would give anything for or not trade for anything in the world.


Trautwein, whose father Jack and brother Dave also pitched in the minor leagues, was no different.

"It was very rewarding to have a life as a professional baseball player and to get the chance to live a true dream," John Trautwein said.

However, the passage of time and the occurrence of certain events will change a person's perspective. That is true for Trautwein after he endured a parent's worst nightmare about 4½ years ago.

Will was the oldest of John and Susie Trautwein's four children. By all accounts, Will was a healthy, fun-loving and popular 15-year-old whose love of athletics and music was nurtured in a stable and happy home.

On the morning of Oct. 15, 2010, in the Trautweins' home in the Atlanta suburb of Johns Creek, the family awoke to discover that Will had taken his life in his bedroom. John Trautwein said the question of why still produces no answers.

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"There were no signs ... my wife, family, our kids, none of his friends knew anything," Trautwein said. "There were no signs of mental health issues or depression.

"He had the normal life of a teenager. There was nothing that would ever lead anybody to think he would take his life or lose his will to live."

The subsequent days of grief sparked John Trautwein to do something, and he formed the Will-To-Live Foundation to help prevent teen suicides. It also led Trautwein to write his book "My Living Will: A Father's Story of Loss & Hope" to help raise awareness for a tragedy that occurs to a teenager every two hours in the United States.

And Trautwein is coming home to Barrington for his first book signing from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday at Chessie's Restaurant in the Ice House Mall at 203 Applebee Street. Trautwein said it wasn't planned to do the first signing back home, as it coincides with a visit to see his brother, but in a way it is fitting.


"It's great because a lot of my high school friends still live in the greater Chicago area and it will be fun to see a lot of them," Trautwein said. "They provided such great support to me and my family."

So much so that Trautwein was amazed to see how many of those friends, some he hadn't seen in 20 to 25 years, came to provide support when he delivered the eulogy at Will's funeral. Little league baseball and middle school basketball teammates and former band mates -- people that are part of the concept Trautwein calls "life teammates."

Trautwein started writing down many of the acts of kindness his family experienced in the days after the tragedy so he wouldn't forget them. He was also advised, as part of the grieving process, to keep a journal.

About six months later he started thinking about writing a book and he put together an outline a year after Will's death. About a year ago he finished writing it, but he had to edit it from 500 to 240 pages and he tried to find a publisher before going the self-publishing route.

The first copies of "My Living Will" were available on Dec. 11 and can be purchased through the foundation's website at www.will-to-live.org. New York Yankees manager and former big-league catcher Joe Girardi, who was Trautwein's teammate at Northwestern, wrote the foreword for the book.

Completing the project was probably tougher than throwing a complete game against baseball's best hitters considering Trautwein has a full-time job and a family, coaches baseball and does numerous speaking engagements for his non-for-profit foundation.

"The book was almost like an escape for me," Trautwein said. "It's something I'm very proud of because it tells a story of hope that started from a really terrible tragedy and became the story of our foundation.

"The foundation is such a positive thing and to be able to write something so positive from something so negative really even surprised me."

But it doesn't gloss over what happened.

"We talk about how we got through the grieving process and we spared no truths,' Trautwein said. "My wife and I said if we're going to do this we're going to expose our lives.

"The book exposes everything he did, how we found him and what happened in the days and months after. We want people to look in the mirror so they can do something slightly different based on what John and Susie have learned in the world of being suicide survivors."

Trautwein said few people know the stunning rates of teen suicides or that 1 of every 10 college students actually has a plan for how they will try to commit suicide. Yet, the fact that we're in a technological age where everyone knows everything, makes it even tougher on teenagers trying to deal with so many different emotions and pressures academically, socially and athletically.

And in many cases they may be masking their true feelings or signs of depression. The Will To Live Foundation's concept of "Life Teammates" is to let teenagers know it's OK to share fears and feelings, to reach out to those you are closest to and to not be afraid to simply say to someone "Love Ya Man."

Trautwein said his family has no logical explanation for what led Will to take his life. He said Will, like many other kids, was probably suffering from some type of depression yet never wanted to share it with anyone.

But sharing his story through the foundation and book could turn out to be a great gift for so many others.

"He had a wonderful life that was far too short, but he affected people in such a positive way," Trautwein said. "This keeps his memory alive in such a positive way.

"I know Will would be very proud of us and that keeps me going. Will would love this foundation and the concept of life teammates."

John Trautwein never picked up a victory in a big-league career that would be a mere footnote to baseball fans. What he is doing now in the memory of his son is more impactful than throwing a perfect game before thousands of fans in Fenway Park.


To learn more about John Trautwein's Will To Live Foundation or to get his copy of My Living Will go to www.will-to-live.org. He will be signing his book from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday at Chessie's Restaurant in Barrington (Ice House Mall, 203 Applebee Street).

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