One, two, three times Fred Lewis taps his heart as he crosses home plate.
When something good happens to the San Francisco Giants left fielder, he'll tap his heart, point to the sky, say a silent prayer.
To remember why he's here. And what was lost in the process.
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"I've dedicated my whole life to them," the soft-spoken Lewis said last week. "To my three girls."
On a rainy Mississippi night in 2001, Lewis' life changed forever on a dark Gulf Coast highway. Out of a senseless tragedy he found a purpose. Now, at 27, Lewis is fulfilling it. He has solidified his hold on the starting spot in left field -- the position held by Barry Bonds for 15 years -- by hitting .320 and providing a spark with his game-changing speed.
"What happened that night is the main reason I'm here today," Lewis said.
A multi-sport star out of little Wiggins, Miss., Lewis earned a baseball scholarship to Southern University in Baton Rouge, La., three hours from his hometown. But in 2001, Lewis was contemplating quitting baseball to return to football. He was a young man with an attitude who could rub people the wrong way. His own mother, Vivian, called him "a mean guy." Home from college for the Thanksgiving holiday, Lewis made the 34-mile trip to the casinos in Gulfport on Thanksgiving night in his father's truck. Lewis, then 20, met up with his best friend, his best friend's girlfriend and two of his young cousins. They decided to get a ride back to Wiggins with Lewis.
The group headed north in the wee hours of the morning.
Lewis' friend, Terrantium Galloway, was in the front seat. The three girls -- Yolanda Pope, Krystal Bolden and Nerfretti Bradshaw -- were in the back seat of the king-cab truck. All four passengers slept while Lewis made his way up Highway 49 during a blinding Mississippi downpour.
A car passed him, dangerously close. Lewis remembers moving to the side of the road when a spray of water hit his windshield. His truck started to hydroplane. Then the details become fuzzy.
Lewis' air bag activated. He heard moaning. He couldn't see anything. He wedged his way out of the truck and stumbled up toward the road to get help. He doesn't remember this, but accident reports say the truck flipped upside down and landed on a tree in a gully by the side of the highway.
The driver who passed him circled back and called for help. Emergency vehicles arrived. Lewis remembers being asked over and over, "Are you sure there were three people in the back?"
In Wiggins, Vivian Lewis already was dressed and waiting for her sister. They were getting ready to go to the early-bird post-Thanksgiving sales. Shortly after 4 a.m., her phone rang. Her youngest son, Fred, was distraught, calling her from the scene.
"It's bad, real bad," Lewis told her.
She and her husband, Levion, headed to the site of the accident, where they came upon a nightmarish scene: a truck so mangled that rescuers couldn't tell who was inside. Her son was lying on the side of the highway asking God to take him instead.
Lewis was taken to a hospital, where he was treated for minor injuries and tested for drugs and alcohol. Nothing was found in his system -- Lewis doesn't drink -- and he was released, still unclear of the fate of his passengers. He learned Galloway had a broken jaw and shoulder. It wasn't until he got home that he was told all three girls died at the scene. He was never allowed to see the truck.
The obituaries provide a glimpse into lives barely lived.
Yolanda, Lewis' 19-year-old cousin, was going to beauty school. She was in the high school band and church gospel chorus.
Krystal -- another cousin, also 19 -- had a daughter and was taking sports medicine classes at a community college in hopes of becoming a trainer. Nerfretti, Galloway's 20-year-old girlfriend, was an honor-roll student who wanted to become a computer scientist.
Lewis didn't want to leave the house. He didn't want to go back to school. He didn't want to play baseball. He kept asking himself how he could have survived.
"He was blaming himself," Vivian said.
He made the rounds of funerals and viewings. At the funeral for Nerfretti Bradshaw in Gulfport, Vivian confided to the grieving mother that Lewis was ready to give up on his life. To abandon his dreams. Nerfretti's mother pulled Lewis aside.
She told him to go back to school. That no one was blaming him. That the Lord had something in mind for him and to abandon his life would be meaningless.
"He wouldn't be where he is today if he hadn't kept those words in his heart," Vivian said.
Lewis heard the same message from each grieving family, his pastor and others in the devastated community.
"The whole community supported me," he said. "The community convinced me to go back to school."
Clinging to those words, Lewis headed back to Baton Rouge. He started slowly, but by the end of the season he was hitting .406.
And in June 2002, he was selected in the second round -- 66th overall -- by the Giants.
"That day, he told me, 'Mama, I've got to go to the graveyard and tell them that I made it,' " Vivian said.
His path to the majors was slow, with a full season spent on each rung of the minors. But Lewis didn't get discouraged. He just kept working. Kept remembering.
It took him years before he could talk to anyone about the accident. Vivian, who speaks to her son every day, said they've never really talked about that night. It took Lewis years before he could stay calm in a heavy Southern downpour.
Now, Lewis is part of the Giants' fresh new look, a pleasant surprise at the leadoff spot.
"I don't know if anyone expected that," Giants General Manager Brian Sabean said. "Speed and power is a great combination at that spot. He's come a long way."
As a baseball player and a man. Lewis has changed in seven years. He's a kinder, gentler soul. He's respectful and patient.
"That incident changed my whole attitude," Lewis said. "I see everything in a different light."
When Lewis hit for the cycle on Mother's Day last season and gesticulated at the plate, his teammates ribbed him. They said he needed lessons in celebration because the rookie kept repeating each gesture.
Lewis smiled quietly.
One, two, three times he taps his heart. To remember why he's here.