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Minor Leaguer Duarte mourns death of sister

MLB.com @RichardJustice

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Mikey Duarte's phone rang at 9:30 that night, his mother's worried voice on the other end of the line.

"Mikey, I can't find Cheekies. There was a shooting at the concert."

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Mikey Duarte's phone rang at 9:30 that night, his mother's worried voice on the other end of the line.

"Mikey, I can't find Cheekies. There was a shooting at the concert."

That's how it began for the White Sox Minor Leaguer. How he learned that he had lost his younger sister and best friend, Christiana, that night in Las Vegas in the worst mass shooting in American history.

Duarte grieves for her still, unable to fill the hole in his heart. He turned to alcohol for weeks to try to ease the pain. It didn't work. Now, he's getting by a day at a time and looking forward to putting on a baseball uniform this spring in a way he has never looked forward to it before.

All of this pours from the 23-year-old shortstop on a chilly Arizona morning as he sits at a picnic table at the White Sox spring complex. He has driven to Arizona from his home in Southern California to do these interviews -- this one with four White Sox beat reporters -- and take the next step in the healing process.

Duarte, a 23rd-round pick in the 2017 Draft out of UC-Irvine, will be back later in the week for the start of his first full professional season.

"She'll never leave my thoughts," Duarte said. "She's my best friend. She knew everything about me, I knew everything about her. We were really, really close.

"I'll never be close with anyone like her again. That's how close we were. She's my best friend forever. She'll never leave me, she'll never leave my thoughts and she'll never leave who I am."

Tweet from @DuarteMjduarte: My baby sister💜 your my life and world baby girl💜 your teaching me to laugh again and smile💜 i miss you dearly and I���ll love you forever💜 pic.twitter.com/x2lKuH4CBS

Christiana was 16 months younger than Mikey and working for the Los Angeles Rams at the time of the shooting. Mikey had given his sister his ticket to the show that night in Las Vegas because he had to return to Arizona to continue rehabilitating from a fractured skull he sustained in his second Minor League game.

"I was supposed to go [to the concert]," Duarte said. "I had a ticket to go, and I had to come here. It should have been me. I was the one who made her buy the concert ticket.

"No words will ever explain what happened, the feeling that happened. … I went to an Arizona Cardinals game the day before and I was sending her Snapchats all day, she was sending me Snapchats all day. They were having the time of their lives in the pool."

Then came the call from his mom.

"And I lost it," Duarte said. "I was like 'What?' I had my boxers on, I was in my hotel room, I ran out with my boxers on, nothing on, no shoes, nothing and ... booked it to Vegas.

"Drove 110 mph and didn't stop. I was honking at cops to stop me so I wouldn't do anything stupid, and the time that I needed someone to stop me, no one stopped me."

Duarte went to two hospitals frantically searching for his sister. He eventually found his parents at Christiana's bedside.

"They're sitting on a hospital praying on their knees, the rosary," Duarte said. "It was a movie, like the worst movie you could see. And that was it."

Duarte is asked about how he dealt with those first days, first weeks.

"You want to know the truth? Alcohol. Alcohol."

Still?

"I've stepped away from that two months ago. Honestly, I drank every night and I drank a lot to wonder why it wasn't me."

His voice cracks, tears flow down his cheeks.

"I think about it now," Duarte said. "Why I wasn't the one dead? I would do anything to just press a button, and she'd come alive because she was so happy, so perfect.

"She had such a bright future. She was so excited. She worked for the Rams, she was working for AEG, for the Kings. She had a bright future, and I would do anything to have her back."

In the five months since, his Twitter feed (@DuarteMjduarte) has been a gut-churning mixture of memories and grief and also of rage that nothing has been done.

Tweet from @DuarteMjduarte: Getting drafted. Now taking off for my first spring training. Doesnt feel real. Hug your brothers and sisters so tight and never be afraid to kiss your momma. For you Cheekies !! I miss you and love you so much. 💜 pic.twitter.com/bsxzqyB7PQ

"People keep tweeting the same stuff over and over again after a mass shooting, and nothing's done," Duarte said. "'Sorry it happened.' 'Thoughts and prayers to the families that lost someone today.' But what have you done to prevent it?

"I just think there needs to be change in this world because there's no reason that a school should be shot up with 17 kids dead. A church, 26 people dead. A concert in Las Vegas, 58 dead.

"It just keeps happening over and over again, and it's not going to stop until our people high up do something about it."

His parents?

"Not good. Not good. Every day we wake up it's a living nightmare. It was the worst mass shooting in United States history, and we were involved.

"And they were there looking for her, on the Strip, in the hotel, throwing quarters in the machine while their daughter got shot and killed. Not good. They'll never be good again. It's just going to be a daily grind to get through every day like it is now."

Mikey's girlfriend at the time was also shot, but she survived. They are no longer together.

The White Sox say there's no blueprint for dealing with the kind of grief Mikey Duarte is experiencing.

"Let him know we're here for him and to help in any capacity for him and his family," said Chris Getz, the White Sox director of player development. "Mainly provide an environment for him to play baseball, get away from things so he can play for a little bit.

"He told me earlier in the day he feels in a way it allows him to tell the story, a tribute to his sister and it makes him feel better."

Mikey Duarte is honoring his sister this season by having her name on his bats and gloves, and perhaps by wearing a patch.

"That's why I always tweet, 'Hug your brothers and your sisters and your moms and dads and don't ever not talk to someone because you're having a rough day,'" Duarte said. "Always appreciate and love them because you don't know what tomorrow brings or even tonight. Especially in this crazy country, especially in this crazy world we live in."

Richard Justice has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2011. Read his columns and follow him on Twitter at @RichardJustice.

Chicago White Sox