Tigers mourn loss of Minors catcher Numata

September 2nd, 2019

DETROIT -- Tigers Minor League catcher Chace Numata passed away Monday after being hospitalized with head injuries following a skateboarding accident early Friday morning in Erie, Pa.

“It is with deep sorrow that the Numata Ohana announces that Chace Kekoa Kenji Numata, our beloved son, brother and a friend to all, has passed away on Sept. 2, 2019,” the Numata family said in a statement released by the Tigers. “Chace was a 27-year-old, switch-hitting catcher from Pearl City, Hawaii, that was blessed with the opportunity to professionally play the sport he loved for the Phillies, Yankees and Tigers organizations for over 10 seasons. Everyone who was around Chace knew there was never a stranger in the room when he was there. It didn’t matter if you were a professional athlete or young child, he made sure to make everyone feel comfortable and welcomed. His smile was contagious, unrelenting and never-ending, while his personality could light up any environment he would be in. 

“Our family would like to say 'Mahalo nui loa' [thank you very much] to everyone who prayed for, thought of and acknowledged Chace during this difficult time. We heard you, and we appreciate you all from the bottom of our hearts! #FORNUMI”

The Tigers learned of Numata’s passing during their Monday afternoon game against the Twins. General manager Al Avila told the team after the game.

“The Detroit Tigers are deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Chace Numata, who was a catcher for our Double-A affiliate in Erie. Though this was his first year with our organization, Chace was beloved by many from our Major League club through all levels of our player development system,” the Tigers said in a statement. “He had an engaging personality that quickly established him as a leader on and off the field, and his presence will be forever remembered in our organization and beyond. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family, friends, teammates and coaches.”

The Double-A Erie SeaWolves, with whom Numata spent most of the season, were playing their season finale at the time the news came out.

“The Erie SeaWolves are heartbroken and deeply saddened by the passing of Chace Numata,” SeaWolves owner Fernando Aguirre said in a statement. “Chace was a leader, an outstanding teammate, a friend to many, and his personality was positive and infectious. He made everyone he met feel welcome, and he had a very positive impact throughout the SeaWolves organization and the Erie community. We extend our sympathies to the Numata Ohana and have them in our thoughts and prayers. RIP Chace.”

Numata, who turned 27 years old last month, joined the Tigers as a Minor League free agent after nine years in the Phillies and Yankees organizations. The native Hawaiian provided veteran depth behind Jake Rogers and later Kade Scivicque before taking over the bulk of the duties at catcher.

While his ability to catch a game earned him quick respect among the Tigers’ top pitching prospects in Erie, his veteran presence in the clubhouse was even more valued on a young team. He was also a fan favorite who would stick around well after a game to sign autographs.

Rogers caught Monday’s game, a last-minute addition to the Tigers' lineup after John Hicks was scratched. Like many SeaWolves players, he began writing “Numi” on his cap after he was hospitalized. Rogers learned of the news after the game.

“It’s tough. I don’t really have the words,” Rogers said. “He was a beautiful person inside and out. I just feel for his family, and I’m praying and thinking about them. He brought light to everybody that was around him. In the little time I was there, he touched me. It’s sad, and all I can do is keep his family in my prayers and think about them. It’s unbelievable. Things can happen so fast. It’s tough.”

According to the Erie Times-News, Erie police officers spotted Numata lying on the ground, bleeding from the head, around 2:15 a.m. Friday morning. He was found just blocks from UPMC Park in downtown Erie. Numata was transported to a nearby hospital. 

Players heading to and from the ballpark on skateboards or scooters wouldn’t be unusual in Erie. Many of them stay close to downtown during the season.

According to the Times-News, the accident did not involve an automobile. Officers reportedly reviewed surveillance video from nearby security camera that showed Numata fell down while skateboarding on the street.

“It’s a terrible thing,” said Tigers lefty Matt Hall, who worked with him during Numata’s midseason stint at Triple-A Toledo. “You don’t ever wish that upon anybody. He was one of the better dudes I ever met. I was lucky enough to play with him. I couldn’t tell you a better person on this planet -- great clubhouse guy, great player, great teammate. Just a phenomenal dude.”

A GoFundMe page created by Tigers pitching prospect Logan Shore to help raise money for the family for hospital and travel expenses has raised more than $25,000.

Like Rogers and others, the news hit Tigers reliever Bryan Garcia hard, moments after he made his Major League debut in Monday’s ninth inning.

“Chace was just an all-time guy,” said Garcia, who played with Numata in Erie earlier this summer. “Never met a guy who didn’t like him. It’s horrible news.”

The Tigers' big league staff met Numata during Spring Training.

“He was one of those gamer guys who really liked to play,” manager Ron Gardenhire said. “Really a great personality. It’s really tough out there in the clubhouse right now. His family, our prayers and thoughts are with them, all of his friends and the Erie team in general. It’s a tough one for the organization, really tough.”