PHILADELPHIA – They spent the best night of their lives in Lot M. Since they couldn't score tickets to watch their team win the World Series, Dave Sale and Dan Curran got as close as they could. They parked their truck in the lot off 7th and Pattison and soaked in the sounds emanating from Citizens Bank Park as the Philadelphia Phillies won the World Series, and then, just like everyone else in the city, they went batty.
Up and down Broad Street they walked that night, looking at each other and laughing. The Phillies won. The freaking Phillies. Neither Dave nor Dan was alive the last time someone could say that. They were just a couple of kids, best friends who worked blue-collar jobs and drank beer together and had dreams and found respite at the ballpark.
The championship afterglow didn't fade at all over the winter, so when Curran and Sale were tasked with planning a bachelor party this summer for Curran's soon-to-be brother-in-law, they didn't think twice. Of course they'd go to a Phillies game. Start off in the parking lot. Move to McFadden's, the bar inside the ballpark. Watch the Phillies win.
And on July 25, they did win, 14-6. Only Sale and Curran and the rest of their friends didn't see it. Someone spilled beer inside McFadden's, and words were exchanged with a group from a local bar, and both parties were kicked out. They kept yammering, all the way back to Lot M.
Which is where nine months after the best night of their lives, Dan Curran watched Dave Sale get beaten to death.
"I had this dream the other night," Curran says. "Everything replayed in my head, but he survived. It felt so real. I never remembered my dreams until this happened. I was so happy. Then I woke up and knew it wasn't real, and it felt like he had been killed all over again."
Curran can't talk about that day. Lawyers won't let him. They don't want to risk blowing the case against Francis Kirchner, Charles Bowers and Jim Groves, the three men accused of inflicting the savage pounding on Sale in the parking lot that caused massive brain trauma, internal bleeding along his spine, a torn artery in his neck, wounds to his liver and spleen, and an ear partially torn from his head.
Kirchner, Bowers and Groves were part of a group from Moe's Tavern in the Fishtown neighborhood of Philadelphia. Bowers had been convicted previously of stabbing a man and assaulting another. Kirchner was on probation for a prior assault. They beat Sale until he was on all fours, according to witness testimony, at which point Kirchner allegedly took a running start before kicking Sale in the head.
He died an hour later.
Kirchner will stand trial for first-degree murder. The charges against Bowers and Groves were recently downgraded to third-degree murder. Curran testified at the preliminary hearing. Reliving the night hurt, a pain that manifests itself daily.
When Curran goes to check the mail, he finds reminders of Sale. Curran co-signed for all of Sale's big purchases. When Sale needed help buying a silver 2007 F-150, he asked Curran – and proceeded immediately to start laughing at Curran's small-by-comparison Colorado. "A baby truck," Sale called it.
Curran recently traded in the baby truck. He couldn't afford payments on both, so he had a choice between that and the F-150.
"I have a lot of his things," Curran says, "but this one. I feel like he's with me."
If anything uplifts Curran, it's that – how Sale lives on through their friends and their stories. At Sale's funeral, his father asked Curran to keep his speech free of anything too embarrassing. He couldn't. Sale was the sort who got along with everyone from preps to skaters, and he'd smile knowing Curran embarrassed him.
So he told the story about another night they were watching a World Series game in the parking lot. Someone furnished a TV, but so many people surrounded it that Sale couldn't see. To get a better view, he climbed a pole and looked down on the screen. People tossed him beers. Life was good until he had to use the bathroom. Sale didn't want to lose his spot on the pole. The view was too good. So he relieved himself right there, and the 200 people in the lot cheered him on with the moral support necessary to make sopping-wet pants tolerable.
Sale's dad laughed. He had to. That was Dave. He was 22 when he died. He may have worked at the Colorcon plant for the rest of his life. He may have gone back to school and learned a trade. Almost everything about his life is what he may have done. Except with the Phillies. He would have kept loving them unconditionally.
"I don't know when it's going to stop hurting," Curran says. "But I told myself, the only way I'd go back to a Phillies game this year is if they went back to the World Series."
They're here. Game 3 of the World Series against the New York Yankees starts tonight at 8 ET. Curran will watch from Florida, where he's taking a few days to clear his mind.
"I've got to get my life back on track," Curran says.
He hasn't worked since Sale's death. He can't sleep without nightmares shaking him awake. Guilt racks him. There are the small things – Curran wishes he had taken Sale skydiving with him just once – and the bigger ones: if only they had walked away and prevented the incident from escalating.
Curran wants people to know: This isn't Philadelphia's fault. The city's reputation as roughhewn is earned, of course, but death is caused by action, in this case an attack that city prosecutor Richard Sax described as "vicious, nasty, cowardly."
It also spoke to people. The Facebook page dedicated to Sale has nearly 1,000 members, and the comments from sympathetic strangers outnumber those from those who knew him. Curran started a memorial fund and has received donations from as far as Russia and Pakistan.
For a fundraiser, Curran auctioned off tickets for the last six games of his and Sale's 18-game package. The Flyers donated hockey tickets, the Eagles sent in football merchandise and the Phillies offered a signed hat from Chase Utley(notes) and signed ball from Jayson Werth(notes). The team is aware a lawsuit related to Sale's death may come. It has beefed up security in parking lots since, said Mike Stiles, the Phillies' VP of operations, and state police will arrive to help with the World Series games.
Curran will return from Florida on Monday. He has tickets for Game 5. He's not sure he wants to go. Stepping back into Lot M could sting too much. If Curran goes, he plans to bring flowers and honor his friend at the place of his greatest elation and most abject sadness. He'll lay them on the ground and think about Dave Sale.
"I know he'd love to see the Phillies win as much as I would, and I feel like Dave's carrying them," Curran says. "Not only do the Phillies have more heart, Dave's an extra force.
"I shared the best day of my life with him. I feel like he's gonna give me another one."
- Dave Sale
- Dan Curran