Tim Hulett returned to work yesterday. He took part in pre-game drills and went about his business as if it were usual. It wasn't.
It had been 11 days since his 6-year-old son, Sam, had died of injuries suffered when he was struck by a car in Cockeysville -- no doubt the most painful 11 days of Hulett's life. But Hulett came back to Camden Yards to prepare for his return to the active roster and tried as hard as he could to put everyone else at ease.
"I'm in awe," said manager Johnny Oates. "You stand here and you try to put yourself in his place. I think everyone knows where I'm coming from, but whether you're Christian or atheist or whatever your belief, you know that there has to be some inner strength for that man and his family to deal with that the way they have."
Hulett, ever the low-key, not-in-your-face kind of guy, tried to put that into words yesterday. He summoned up his faith in God. He praised the strength of his wife, Linda, and thanked the multitudes for their prayers and support. He was the picture of strength and yet tried to make it clear that his strength did not come from within.
He is a born-again Christian whose faith has been tested, but he returned to the ballpark yesterday to make it clear that he and his wife and three other sons had come through it with their beliefs unshaken.
"We could become bitter," he said, "but we don't want Sam's life to be in vain. We want good things to come from his life. If people come to know the Lord because of this, that would be great. We want to see some good come out of it.
"Sometimes, it's not for us to question why things happen. I believe that someday, when I spend eternity in heaven, I'll know the answer. Not all things are good, but the Lord uses all things for good."
The Hulett family has spent the past 11 days working through a hurt that never will go away completely. When Sam Hulett darted into the path of a car July 22, the lives of Tim and Linda Hulett and their children were forever altered, but they seem determined to turn the tragedy into spiritual triumph.
This is not just a bereaved parent borrowing platitudes to get past the pain. Hulett long has been part of baseball's born-again movement, but in his utility role he has not had the platform that is reserved for big-name players, such as Darryl Strawberry.
"I know this might not seem important to you, but I want everybody to know that I didn't come to the Lord because of the accident," Hulett said. "This is a lifestyle we've been living all along. We're not making it because we're strong people. We're making it because of our faith in God. Even before the accident, my wife was praying that we could become more bold about our beliefs."
Hulett said that the support his family has received -- from people in his hometown of Springfield, Ill., from Baltimore and from elsewhere around the country -- has been overwhelming. He has heard from other parents that have lost children. His family has been surrounded by a support group of family, friends and Orioles teammates.
What Tim and Linda Hulett went through is the realization of every parent's greatest fear. Tim Hulett was notified during a game at Comiskey Park in Chicago that his son had been hit by a car. He had to endure the longest plane ride of his life, aware that he might not get there in time. He and his wife had the agonizing decision to donate his son's vital organs so that other children would have a chance to live.
Perhaps the most difficult thing was helping their three other sons -- Tug, Joe and Jeff -- deal with a tragedy that took place before their eyes.
"We've tried to be honest and up-front with them," Hulett said. "The oldest [Tug] wears his emotions on his sleeve, and the youngest [Jeff] doesn't really understand what's going on. Joe was keeping everything inside, but we've talked about it a lot. Each of them are dealing with it a different way, but I think they are dealing with it."
Hulett seemed to be thinking about everyone but himself. He even expressed sympathy for the driver of the car that struck his son. He has not had a chance to speak with her, but expressed the hope that she could find the same peace that has helped ease his family's sorrow.
"We don't blame her," Hulett said. "She wasn't speeding. She wasn't driving recklessly. If you wanted to be bitter, you could try to blame someone else. But Sam just ran out in front of a car and got hit. To know Sam, he was a good kid, an obedient kid. It was just an accident. There was also another person in the car. I feel for them. They were in shock.
"We know the Lord and we will deal with this. I don't know what their situation is. Hopefully, they will have the same kind of peace."
Hulett came back to work yesterday, not because he had to, but because the family felt it was time to try to get things back to some semblance of normality. He will be eligible to come off the 15-day disabled list tomorrow, but Oates said that his playing status would depend on how things go over the next few days.
"I could have taken the rest of the year off," Hulett said, "but that didn't seem like the right thing to do. I have a family to take care of. I have three kids who are just as important as the one we lost."