Updated: Mar 24
My name is Andrew Ballenger, and I was a classmate of Mark’s at SJU. I no longer
attend St. Joe’s, but Mark and I were friends for the majority of our freshman year. I could easily say that Mark was one of my best friends at St. Joe's, and was actually the first person, outside of my suite, that I met on campus. I am from Columbus, Ohio and did not know a single person on campus when I arrived. Mark and I had freshman English class together at 9 AM. It was my first college class, and I sat down next to a guy in a green rugby hat who immediately seemed like the kind of guy I wanted to befriend. Mark was the first kid I talked to in class, and he was immediately nice to me. I was extremely nervous to start college alone and Mark made me feel like a friend right away. We got to talking and I immediately realized that we had a lot in common. It also did not take me long to notice that just about every pretty girl in class was trying to talk to Mark, which made me want to be his friend even more. Mark was a charmer among charmers. I always noticed he had that ability with people. After class, Mark and I would joke back and forth. For the next couple weeks, Mark and I talked at class and he became one of my first college friends.
I would occasionally see Mark out and about at parties or in the cafeteria, but it was not until a month or two into the semester that I realized Mark was close friends with my suite-mate Ben. Ben and I had already become close friends, so the three of us began hanging out a lot in our suite. We would play Skate 3, a video game that I absolutely hated but Mark and Ben loved. Mark was the best at it of the three of us. He was good at basically every game we played. I miss those times the most, I think. It honestly made my day to come back from a stressful test or class and walk into Mark and Ben doing something wild and fun. They were always rearranging Ben’s room or doing some crazy art project. Mark was one of those people that could make anything fun and entertaining. He had that ability about him, something very few people actually have.
I remember one day; I was walking out of my bathroom before a night out with my
friends and girlfriend. Mark was there, talking to everyone before we were going to go out for the night. I walked out of the shower to an image that I will never forget. My girlfriend at the time, had her arms wrapped around Mark (who had just arrived) in a big hug. Mark saw me exit the bathroom and gave me a sheepish, cheesy smile and hugged her back. The look of glee and laughter on his face is something I will never forget. If it had been anyone else, I would have been beyond annoyed, but Mark knew exactly how to mess with me, and I loved him for it. I jokingly chased after him, laughing and yelling at him. Mark always knew exactly how to push my buttons, and I loved that about him. It was never a dull moment with Mark. He was a jokester and I loved messing around with him. He had a smile that could light up a room, and a personality to match it. That may be what I miss the most about him. I haven’t made friends since like Mark and Ben, and I am not sure I ever will. We were nearly inseparable for the majority of that year, with Mark being the glue of the group.
I became friends with Mark’s girlfriend Sabrina, who was a wonderful person as well. I
always told Mark that, despite all the girls begging for his attention (and that is no joke), that he should stick with Sabrina, because she might be the only person I knew that was even nicer than him. Plus, Ben and I needed Mark off the market if he and I were ever going to get any attention from girls when we went out. Mark actually helped me meet a girl at SJU that I dated for quite a while. Like I said, Mark was selfless and a hell of a wingman.
Mark was also a tremendous athlete and was one of the best players on our intramural basketball squad that winter. I distinctly remember after a tough loss, myself and a couple of the guys on the team were arguing about how we played. The argument began to heat up and some words were exchanged. Mark immediately intervened and calmed the two of us right down. He reminded us that it was nothing serious and that we were all friends no matter what. I know it sounds beyond cliché, but that is really just who Mark was. He was the most selfless college student I have ever met in my entire life. Most guys with that amount of confidence often acted poorly in social settings, but not Mark. Mark always came off well and seemed to be loved by everyone on campus. That is why I loved going out with Mark, I knew it was going to be a good time and that we would end up meeting people. I have always been anxious in situations where I need to meet new people and Mark really encouraged me to get myself out there. I was always jealous at how insanely easy he made it look, but I can honestly say I owe Mark more than he probably knows. The way Mark treated other people, especially at such a young age, was remarkable. It was truly a God given talent that I have yet to see replicated by anyone. I have never thought that someone my age could be a role model to me, but Mark was. Almost every decision I make, I remind myself that Mark is watching over me, and I ask myself if he would approve of it. I do not think I will ever be able to live life the way Mark did, but I try my best in his honor.
However, that is not all I owe Mark for these days. I can say without a doubt that I would
not still be playing college baseball if it was not for Mark. As I said, Mark was a tremendous athlete and he always encouraged me to join the rugby team, now that I had gotten cut from the baseball team. I would resist, as I knew nothing about rugby, but that didn’t stop Mark from encouraging me to join. I tend to be a pessimist, while Mark has the ability to find the positive angle on any situation. He told me that I should either play rugby or keep trying to play college baseball. Mark somehow knew how much it meant to me and encouraged me to keep trying. That is the amazing thing about Mark, it was as if he could read your mind and say exactly what you needed/wanted to hear. When Mark passed, it was almost as if I could feel him telling me I needed to pursue my dreams. I felt an overwhelming sense of guilt, because I knew how Mark lived his life. If Mark wanted something, he went for it. I decided from that point on, that I would live my life in his memory and decided to transfer schools to continue my baseball career. Two and a half years later, I am still playing and there is not a day that I walk onto the field that I do not remember what Mark did for me. I wear 15 and have his initials on my glove to remind myself of how much love Mark gave me. He gave me the confidence to follow my dreams again.
I am not a very religious person, but if there are angels on this earth, I truly think Mark is
one of them. I have never seen someone radiate such positivity and love, all while enjoying life to the fullest. In his few years, Mark accomplished more than most do over their entire lives. I can say without a doubt that Mark was one of the most beloved people on campus, whether he knew it or not. He embodied what it meant to be a winner in life. He always put others first and never worried about himself. I wish I could have been there for Mark as much as he was there for me. It is hard to write most of this down and the tears are welling in my eyes as I do so, so I think I may stop here. I could write 5 novels about the impact Mark had on me and the love I have in my heart for him. The only negative part of knowing Mark is that now I have to miss him. I haven’t made a friend like him since and am not sure I ever will. Mark really made me feel like a brother. Despite only knowing him for 5-6 months, I felt as if I had known him my entire life. Mark was a perfect friend, and I was so blessed to have known him.