Shattered family forgives Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Andrew Bellatti

ByAndrea Adelson ESPN logo
Monday, August 21, 2023
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CLEARWATER, Fla. -- The car ride to meet Lyn and Garrett Reid is quiet, each mile taking Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Andrew Bellatti back 13 years, to the accident, the jail cell and the darkness.

The Reids wait for his arrival. They pace and check their watches. They, too, are transported 13 years back, to the accident and the funeral for their beloved David and their relentless pain and grief.

They all want this meeting to happen, but nobody knows what to expect. Bellatti wonders what he will say. The Reids wonder how they will feel. One tragedy has tethered them together, but this is the first time they will actually speak to one another since the day everything changed, Jan. 22, 2010.

On that day, Bellatti was driving too fast on a wet road and crashed his Ford Mustang head-on into a Dodge Caravan. Garrett Reid was critically injured. His dad, David, was killed. Bellatti, an 18-year-old prospect in theTampa Bay Raysorganization at the time, was arrested and charged with vehicular manslaughter.

As newly widowed Lyn Reid tried to navigate how she and her two kids would live without David, she felt certain about one thing in the months that followed the accident. She did not want Bellatti to go to prison. Some of her friends vehemently disagreed and bluntly asked, "How could you not throw down the gauntlet?"

Lyn could never find the right words to explain how she felt. She just knew she needed to forgive Bellatti so she could move forward and, she says, "not sleep with rage." So she asked the judge for leniency in sentencing. He granted it. Bellatti spent less than a year in jail, and resumed his baseball career.

Now here they are on a hot day during spring training, a new season dawning. Bellatti pulls into the driveway of a house ESPN has arranged as a meeting place for both parties. He's with his wife, Kylee, 3-year-old daughter and brother-in-law. His face, already flushed.

He opens the front door.

"Hello," Lyn says in a sing-song voice as they enter. Garrett stands next to her.

She stretches out her arms. Bellatti walks toward her, his head bowed. This is the woman who saved him, who gave him his life back and allowed him to live out his dream as a baseball player when few others thought she should. This is their story: One about tragedy, yes, but also about forgiveness, second chances and the healing power of both.

They embrace.

Bellatti tries not to cry.

BOTH THE REID and Bellatti families made their homes in San Diego. Lyn and David Reid met in the Navy, had two kids and were married for 23 years. David volunteered in the drama department at Steele Canyon High School, where his kids, Garrett and Katy, attended. He was known as the "Drama Papa," and Garrett was active in the Steele Canyon Players drama club. Lyn and David would run the concessions stand together for performances.

Both Lyn and Garrett describe David as "the life of the party," with a keen sense of humor and fiercely devoted to his family. "I never had to ask my dad to be involved," Garrett says. "He was just ubiquitous."

"He was fiercely devoted to my sister and I, and unwaveringly supportive of whatever endeavor we wanted to do. We went for a cruise, and I was like, 'I think I want to do scuba diving.' And next day, we were scuba diving. We got home to San Diego and we were taking courses within the month. Then I had all the scuba gear I could ever possibly want."

Andrew Bellatti attended Steele Canyon as well, and graduated a year before Garrett Reid (they did not share the same social circles). Bellatti, the youngest of three children, was a star on the baseball team. He was known as the "Strikeout Machine" and dreamed of making it to the majors and playing for the hometownPadres.

After the Rays drafted him out of high school in 2009, Bellatti made his first big purchase: a brand-new, red Mustang. He loved the color, the speed, the sound system. "I felt really proud of that because I was getting hand-me-downs, being the youngest," he said. "My mom had a car that she gave to my sister. My sister had a car she gave to my brother. And then I was left with it at the very end. So getting my own car was something that was really special."

Bellatti was back home for the offseason the day of the accident. He was running late to take his then-girlfriend to her basketball game. As he approached Steele Canyon High, a car pulled out in front of him. Rather than slam on his brakes, Bellatti decided to try and pass. But he did so illegally, crossing a double yellow line -- and right into oncoming traffic.

David and Garrett Reid were traveling home from the movies in the opposite direction.

"I'm looking out the window, not paying attention and I hear tires screeching," Garrett Reid says. "I look to my left and see just a blur of red. My dad pulls to the right hard. And the last words I hear are, "Oh s---."

"I know for a fact, I was going fast. I didn't really judge how fast," Bellatti said. "I don't know if I should have hit my brakes. But I know I was in a hurry to get to where I was going. Then after that, I just blacked out."

David Reid died in the accident. He was 50. Garrett Reid sustained fractures to his skull, cheekbone and wrist.

Bellatti does not remember much about the accident, nor the days immediately afterward. He was able to play rookie ball with the Princeton Rays before returning to San Diego to face criminal charges.

In October 2010, Bellatti pleaded guilty to vehicular manslaughter. He faced between five and seven years in prison.

Thoughts about his own future mixed with thoughts about the Reid family. As Bellatti sat in his jail cell awaiting sentencing, he had an overwhelming desire to reach out to the Reids. He had to somehow tell them how sorry he was for what he had done. What he really wanted was the chance to sit down and talk to them. But it was too hard, too painful, too awkward and uncomfortable. So he wrote a letter instead.

Bellatti stared at the blank page in front of him for hours before picking up the pencil.

"I was holding a lot of stuff on the inside," he says. "Just saying that I felt bad is such an understatement. Saying that I was sorry couldn't even come close to how I actually felt. I wanted to get something to her, some sort of 'I'm sorry,' even though I know it wouldn't even matter."

Dear Mrs. Reid, Garrett Reid and Katy Reid,

I'm writing you to tell you how very deeply sorry I am that you are going through all this pain due to my actions. My intentions that day and every other day of my life was not to cause pain to anyone.

I made a horrible mistake, and I've learned from this more than anything else in my life. Not a day goes by that I don't recall that night and cry alone. I can't stop. I cry myself to sleep. This horrible situation will live with me for the rest of my life.

I'm sorry to Garrett and Katy, because I couldn't imagine what they are going through, losing their father. I am so very sorry, Garrett and Katy. I'm very sorry to you, Mrs. Reid. You do not deserve this at all, and I can't imagine how my mom would feel if my dad was gone. It's so hard to write this letter, but I just thought that you should know how I felt and to say how sorry I truly am.

With the upmost sincerity,

Andrew Bellatti

Lyn Reid received the letter, but says she has no recollection of reading it at the time. Though prosecutors wanted a prison sentence, Lyn Reid had already determined she wanted leniency.

During the sentencing hearing, prosecutor Curtis Ross laid it out simply: "The conduct and the level of recklessness that Mr. Bellatti displayed that day would normally warrant a prison case but for him victimizing an extremely kind and compassionate family," Ross told the judge he would abide by her wish and recommend that Bellatti avoid prison time.

Bellatti was sentenced to eight months in jail and five years' probation.

"It wasn't forced," Lyn Reid says. "It didn't hit me like a bolt of lightning or anything like that. It was just how I felt. I knew we couldn't have Dave back. How much carnage do you want from one event? There'd been enough."

Lyn Reid laughs when asked whether she has always been a forgiving person.

"I took a personality test, and I'm to the left of Gandhi or something like that," she says. "That's kind of who I am. I'm not religious, but I was raised with religion, and I do believe that a lot of the prophets give us the best advice. Forgiveness is usually No. 1 on those lists."

But there is one more point Lyn wants to make. Her forgiveness came with her husband in mind.

"Dave would have forgiven him before I even did," she says through tears.

"Dave had a very generous spirit. Even when I couldn't explain what I wanted to do to anyone else, it's what Dave would have wanted. He would have wanted us to move on. He would have wanted us not to throw the book at a dumb kid. He understood that everyone makes mistakes, and everyone deserves a second chance."

FOR GARRETT, FINDING forgiveness took more time as he grappled with the accident and loss of his father. What did forgiveness mean? Did it mean absolution? Did it mean trying to push anger aside to repair what is left of a life? Did it mean being selfless when everything else says be selfish?

On the first day back at school after the accident, Garrett, then 17, remembers reaching a breaking point. He had a cast on his foot and a cane to help him walk. He slipped on a set of stairs and fell backward. Two girls started giggling as he stood up, and that reaction triggered something inside him.

"I howled," Garrett says. "I realized what I was living with, and the pain. It was primal. I was filled with malice. Rage. I lived with that rage and nightmares and fantasies for quite some time, for several months. It wasn't until I realized that hate at such a severe caliber was consuming me: waking moments, days, nights, dreams. It was all consuming."

Garrett had vivid nightmares, in which he exacted revenge for what Bellatti did to his father.

"Evening the score," he says. "Truly at the heart of it, in the darkest moments, it was ending his life. It was costing me myself. I remember reaching this first part of having to forgive Andrew. But it wasn't absolution for him. I think most of us associate forgiveness with this benevolent, godly thing. In this moment, forgiveness was for me."

Garrett says after he made the decision to let go of his rage, he understood he had to work on what he calls "the emotional gauntlet that was thrown down in my life." He also supported his mom and her decision to ask for leniency. But going through all of that made him reconsider what it means to forgive.

"I think we all like to think of it as: I'm sorry, I forgive you," Garrett said. "But you can forgive someone and still hold them accountable for their actions. You can forgive someone and still be angry at them. Forgiving Andrew doesn't simply fix things. Forgiving Andrew let me sleep at night. Forgiving Andrew let me acknowledge his humanity, and the mistakes that he made."

It has taken years for Garrett to reach this point, where he can talk about both his grief and his father with clarity and perspective. He describes his grief "like the waves."

"With time, the tide got lower," he says. "I still have to live with the loss of my father for the rest of my life, and that will be my own journey. But even when I had processed that rage and gotten rid of it, if I'd have a meltdown around a success, like, 'I wish I could call my dad and tell him,' it was never a slim thought of, 'Screw [Andrew]. He took that from me.' There's still the pain. But it's softened. The edges are rounded out versus sharp."

LYN KEPT THE letter Bellatti wrote to her from jail, putting it in a box with everything from the accident. She cannot explain why, but at some point last summer, she went to clean out her garage and found it in a "needs to be filed" pile. Her first reaction was to put it in the shredder. She had not thought about Bellatti or the letter in years.

Now remarried and living in South Dakota, Lyn asked her husband, John, to read the letter first and to then research what had happened to Bellatti.

After he was released from jail in early 2011 after serving three months, Bellatti resumed his baseball career. The Rays left a roster spot for him, and he played short season A ball in Hudson Valley. In an interview with the Tampa Bay Times in 2015, Rays farm director Mitch Lukevics said Bellatti was "an outstanding young man who was involved in a sad and unfortunate accident.''

That same season, Bellatti made his major league debut with the Rays. But shoulder, arm and elbow injuries derailed his career for the next five years. At one point, he found himself out of baseball altogether. But in 2021, he decided to give it one more shot -- signing with theMiami Marlinsbefore moving on to the Phillies in 2022.

Finding out that Bellatti was pitching for the Phillies shocked Lyn. It just so happened on the day she found the letter, he was pitching in San Diego. Intrigued, she followed the Phillies through their World Series run, one that saw Bellatti make eight playoff appearances out of the bullpen. His 2022 postseason included nine strikeouts and a 1.29 ERA. Watching Bellatti pitch brought her back to dates at the ballpark with David. The two used to go to Padres games together, sitting behind home plate. They both loved baseball.

Thinking about David and baseball triggered her grief all over again, but in different ways.

"It's amazing what you can't process when it's too close, that you think you've dealt with, and you haven't," she says. "You go through the whole grieving process all over again. [I] did a lot of talking about Dave. But it was easier. It was easier to talk. Easier to remember the funny stuff and the good things."

Around the time the Phillies made the World Series, Lyn got a call from The Philadelphia Inquirer. During her conversation with the Inquirer reporter, Lyn learned Bellatti had mentioned he never heard back after he wrote the letter. She thought, "I have to reach out."

The article that published last December, allowed both Reid and Bellatti to connect in a new way -- Lyn learned about his 12-year journey to get to the major leagues, one filled with multiple injuries, various setbacks, stints with multiple organizations and time away from the game. Bellatti learned the Reids had a happy life, and Lyn still had that letter.

The story facilitated their first face-to-face meeting.

Going back in time, thinking about where he is now -- married, a father, finally a major leaguer -- forces Bellatti to confront both powerful emotions and powerful questions. One month before his meeting with the Reids, Bellatti is reliving it all again, 18 years old, driving a red Mustang. He wants to talk about what happened, because he feels sharing his story means shining a light on Lyn, and what it means to forgive. "I just want this to be something that can inspire people," he says.

Bellatti had thought about meeting Lyn Reid for years.

"That by far would be the most emotional day of my life," he says, blinking back tears.

What would he say? How would he say it?

"What I want to say and what comes out, I have ...," he pauses to collect himself.

"I don't know," he says. "But I know I want to say I'm sorry."

THE MOMENT IShere. After he hugs Lyn, Andrew turns to Garrett and hugs him, too. For Garrett, the hug allows him to breathe again. Because, in all honesty, Garrett remained skeptical about why Bellatti wanted to meet with them.

Garrett wants to support his mom, but he needs to see Andrew for himself, to judge his true sincerity. The hug begins to ease his doubts.

They exchange pleasantries to fill the awkward silence. But everybody knows Bellatti came here to do one thing. He steels himself and says what he has wanted to say for 13 years, looking Lyn and Garrett in the eye.

"No. 1, I want to say I'm sorry," Bellatti says, his eyes welling with tears. "I know I wrote you a letter, but writing is ... you can read words, but I want to tell you face to face. I just want you to know I'm sorry. Somehow you didn't want me to rot in the ground for the rest of my life. You honestly had a hand in where this life is.

"And you had a hand in her," Bellatti says, motioning to his daughter, Brylyn, who is playing with toys near the couch. "So I also want to say thank you."

Lyn nods her head. As she begins to speak, her voice starts cracking.

"I'm so proud of you because it's really easy to just lay down and play dead, and it's really hard to come back around and create a life," she says. "You did it. Accidents happen, and the one who would've been the most forgiving is Dave. It was just a bad time, and a bad day in the wrong place."

Garrett allows his skepticism to subside as he listens to Bellatti and watches how he still grapples with both the pain and fallout from what happened that day.

"I have to say it does matter what you say," Garrett tells Bellatti. "It's peculiar. I had never read the letter. By choice, by purposeful decision, I can't really say. But I never read your letter. And the night before I left [for the meeting], I read it, and it made me just reflect on this dynamic that we've ended up in together.

"When I sit and think about our two positions, I'd rather be on my side," Garrett continues. "To have to live with what you've been living with and to tackle those demons, I empathize. I share those sentiments, just not wanting to go through life hurting someone to that level."

Lyn and Garrett repeat what they have both told themselves, their friends and the public since: There was no malice. Just a terrible accident.

Then Lyn acknowledges what has been hanging over them for a decade.

"I don't think we could have done this 10 years ago," Lyn says. "It would have been too hard then. Don't you think? I mean, I feel like there's parts of it I can just deal with now, you know?

"It's God's timing in all this," Bellatti says.

They talk more about their lives. The Bellattis reveal they are expecting their second child; Lyn talks about her infant granddaughter.

Lyn turns to Bellatti.

"Do you feel better?" she asks. "I'm sorry I didn't reach out to you sooner."

Bellatti shakes his head. "No, no ..."

"I didn't want to put more pressure on you," Lyn says. "I just never felt like there was anything to gain from it. But now I really think we'll all be able to move on a little lighter."

The Reids and Bellattis spend about 30 minutes together. As it turns out, the Reids do most of the talking -- perhaps to put Bellatti at ease, perhaps to fill some of the uncomfortable moments, perhaps so Bellatti understands what is left to do: forgive himself.

The two families say goodbye and go their separate ways. When the Bellattis get in their car, Kylee notices that Andrew is emotionally exhausted. But a weight has been lifted, and the quiet in the car feels different this time. Less tense. More reflective.

As the Reids head back to their hotel, their route takes them over a bridge toward Clearwater Beach. Their view is breathtaking: Directly ahead, the sun is setting over the ocean. Their car ride is quiet, too, as Garrett and Lyn see the beauty in front of them.

They feel peace.

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