Lucas: Tragic Fire Hits Carolina Family

The family of Carolina closer Andrew Carignan is dealing with a devastating loss.

All of Carignan's baseball memorabilia was lost, including a baseball signed for his great-grandfather by Babe Ruth.

All of Carignan's baseball memorabilia was lost, including a baseball signed for his great-grandfather by Babe Ruth.

May 31, 2007

By Adam Lucas

Like most of us, Gary Carignan just wanted to throw some steaks on the grill to celebrate Memorial Day. He found the meat, went to the cupboard where the grill tools should be, opened the door, and found...

Nothing.

These are the little details that became reality for the Carignan family after their home of 20 years burned to the ground on May 14. Gary Carignan and his wife, Lisa, weren't home at the time. Neither were any of their four children--oldest son Andrew is the closer for the Diamond Heels.

But everything else in their lives was inside the house at 2 Deepwood Drive in Norwich, Conn.

"I think we always take for granted that when we go into the cupboard or the closet, the things you need will be there," Gary Carignan says. "It wasn't until I went to cook something on the grill that I realized we didn't have any barbecue tools. That type of thing has happened several times."

The Norwich community came to the family's aid immediately, providing all the necessities the family needed. Gary's childhood home, where his parents had lived until recently, was sitting vacant on the housing market, so the Carignan family is temporarily relocated there. They're more fortunate than some families in their situation--they have a roof, they have beds, they have food.

It's the little things that remind them each day of what happened. Gary Carignan wanted to return to work this week for the first time since the fire. The night before, he suddenly realized a complication--he no longer owned any work clothes. Family and friends (including the family of Andrew's Tar Heel teammate Chad Flack, who greeted the Carignans in College Park with a bag full of brand-new Carolina clothes to wear to games) had provided all sorts of casual gear. But he'd never thought about replacing his work clothes, because there hadn't been much time to work since that afternoon he watched flames engulf the house he and a friend had built with their own hands.

"I had to go to the store just so I could go to the office," he says with a grim smile.

A week after the fire, Andrew Carignan sat in the Carolina dugout clear-eyed but still shaken by what he had seen. He was at a team dinner when word of the fire reached him; he flew home the next morning to aid in the recovery.

In the moments after he received the news, his first questions were about his dog. Most of his clothes and personal belongings were in an apartment in Chapel Hill. In that way, he was the luckiest of the Carignan family. But his dog was in Norwich.





How to help: Carolina athletics asks that all donations for the Carignan family go through the fund set up by Norwich Free Academy. Contact John Iovino via email or at 860-425-5510 for more information.


"I couldn't have been more close to her," he says. "From what they tell me, she wouldn't come out of the house. One of our neighbors who knew her was trying to call her out. But one thing they say about golden retrievers is that they won't come out of the house unless they know everyone is OK. And since she didn't know..."

His voice trails off.

This is a picture of Andrew Carignan we are not accustomed to seeing. Carolina baseball fans know him as the unshakable anchor of the Tar Heel bullpen. Every Carolina game is played with one goal in mind: get the game to the eighth or ninth inning and put the ball in Carignan's hands.

So no one knew exactly what they would get when he returned to the team. His trip to Norwich meant he missed a home victory over Winthrop; Carignan rejoined the squad at College Park for a May 18-19 series against Maryland. He was still the closer, of course. But no one knew what his mindset would be when the Tar Heels entered the ninth inning of the first game of the series in a save situation. Much of his success depends on his heavy fastball, but much of it also depends on his single-minded focus.

"To me, it was a good sign that he wanted to get back with his teammates," Mike Fox says. "He wanted to get back out there. That was his sanctuary."

Carignan walked to the mound for the ninth inning with his parents, siblings, and grandparents in the stands. The results:

Strikeout.

Strikeout.

Strikeout.

"I don't know if I can say I wasn't thinking at all about what happened at home," the pitcher says. "It had dominated my thoughts for the past week."

Since then, he's been his usual untouchable stuff. He picked up a pair of two-inning saves in Carolina's run to the ACC Tournament championship and will again hop up in the bullpen at the first sign of late-inning trouble in this weekend's regional.

On the diamond, everything is still exactly the same.

Even while everything else has changed dramatically.

Adam Lucas's third book on Carolina basketball, The Best Game Ever, chronicles the 1957 national championship season and is available now. His previous books include Going Home Again, focusing on Roy Williams's return to Carolina, and Led By Their Dreams, a collaboration with Steve Kirschner and Matt Bowers on the 2005 championship team.

Related Stories