Then something terrible happened. Anthony DeMarco, a 20-yer-old Phillies fan, was walking home with two friends in his quiet South Philly neighborhood. He wanted to get in early because he had to work the next day. A car pulled up. Two men jumped out, one with a gun. There was a scuffle. DeMarco was shot and killed.
This isn't just a story of another senseless tragedy, though. This is a story about family and honor and remembrance. It's a story about how Domenic DeMarco, 10, and his father, also named Anthony, dedicated themselves to keep a loved one's name alive. It's about how, for the last year and a half, Domenic had been working out at Sportz Central in Bellmawr, N.J., with Steve Mondile, and more recently working with Joe Gorman, taking countless swings in the batting cage preparing for the Phillies Home Run Derby.
And how, Sunday morning, he found himself competing in the championship at Citizens Bank Park while his dad, wearing a button with Anthony's picture, watched proudly.
"Anthony was Domenic's inspiration," the father said. "Anthony was 20 at the time and Domenic was only eight. They were starting to bond in the last two years, so everything [Domenic] does is thinking of his brother. His brother loved basketball. He taught [Domenic] how to play basketball. The things Domenic does are for Domenic, but with the inspiration of his brother as his mentor.
"When Anthony was alive two years ago and Domenic was in the derby, he won the local. Anthony was there. Then when [Domenic] went to the regional, Anthony was there. We can still see him saying, 'You've got this! You've got this!'
"Well, Domenic lost. Now here it is, two years later, Anthony's not here. Domenic won the local championship, he won the regional championship. Now here he is. And his brother always said back then, 'I know you've got this. I know you'll win this championship because I taught you and you're good.'"
Started in 1971, the Phillies Home Run Derby contest is their most successful and longest-running program. It has grown to include over 22,000 girls and boys between the ages of 7 and 12. There are three levels of competition. The local competitions are held in April through July with the top three winners in each division advancing to the regionals. In 2012, there were over 50 local competitions in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. The regional competitions are held at eight different locations, and the winners in each division advance to the championship.
Domenic, of course, is also a Phillies fan. His favorite player is Chase Utley. His favorite pitcher is Roy Halladay. Before the contest, as Domenic stood in the concourse, he wore the button, too.
Making the occasion even more special was this: father Anthony is a carpenter at Citizens Bank Park and has worked there ever since It opened in 2004.
"It's the greatest job, it's the greatest facility. The people here are wonderful," he said. "It's the greatest organization in the world. They couldn't treat you any better. Especially through the time we're having, with losing my son. This organization has been fantastic all the way around. From [general partner, president and CEO David] Montgomery down, it's the best."
The fairytale ending would have been if Domenic had won. He didn't, finishing in the middle of the pack. But the great thing about baseball is that there's always next year. In the meantime, just competing and playing on the big league field were quite a thrill.
"It was wonderful," he said. "Anthony was on my mind a lot."
"I could see that he was a little nervous, but he was here to have fun -- and the experience of getting here," his father said. "What would Anthony have said? Probably, 'You gave it a shot. Come back next year.' And then he probably would have said, 'Man, you could have done better.'"
In the interim, time marches on. Two of the three alleged assailants have been arrested. The jury trial is scheduled to begin Oct. 1.
Paul Hagen is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.