Andrew Dys

Forgotten? Never. Father’s co-workers buy gravestone for slain Lancaster major-league player Clyburn.

Most killings seem stupid – even preposterous.

This one five years ago was worse.

Former Major League Baseball player Danny Clyburn Jr., who grew up in Lancaster, was shot and killed five years ago – on Feb. 7, 2012 – while visiting family in his hometown. A man with no job, no permanent address and countless convictions claimed Clyburn owed him something of his baseball success, so he shot Clyburn right in the heart.

Derrick McIlwain, the admitted shooter in prison now for 15 years – who even tried to blame the crime on the unarmed Clyburn – said an argument started because Clyburn “didn’t do enough for people from the ’hood.”

The whole city cried.

But for so long, there was no gravestone out in a country cemetery southeast of Lancaster to mark where Clyburn was buried.

Co-workers of his father changed all that.

Danny Clyburn Sr., the father who retired last year, had been working for years in maintenance at Weddington High School, across the North Carolina state line in Union County.

A Weddington High guidance counselor, Jackie Page, is from Lancaster and knew the family and awful shooting story. Michael Hart, the school’s athletic director, knew Clyburn Sr. as a gracious and helpful man at school.

So at an athletic banquet people chipped in. Donations paid for a stone and for it to be installed. It is a marble slab with a picture of a slugging baseball player swinging a bat on it.

“Mr. Clyburn is such a quiet, fine man – what happened to his son was just terrible,” Hart said. “We wanted to do something for him.”

The stone went up a couple of years ago and remains a wonderful and touching gift, said Danny Clyburn Sr., who still lives in Lancaster.

“I appreciate all those people at school who cared so much to do that,” Clyburn Sr. said. “My son is still on my mind – all of us think about him.”

Clyburn Jr. hit four home runs in stints in the majors with the Baltimore Orioles and Tampa Bay Rays and had a long and successful minor league career. He hadn’t lived in Lancaster since high school when he was drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates. He was only home from California in 2012 to visit his family, and had stopped at a clubhouse used by former friends to watch the Super Bowl.

He died in the street, just yards from where he grew up.

But his grave is not unmarked. When family or friends or those who remember Danny Clyburn Jr. want to stand quietly and think about the life he lived, the home runs and the man who got out of Lancaster to the big leagues, a donated stone with a hitter on it is there forever to remind them.