As a ray of early morning light gleams through the tiny window, his eyes slowly begin to open. For a split second, he is in his bedroom. He can hear the muffled sounds of his family preparing for the day in the kitchen downstairs. He can still feel the warmth and safety from the thick comforter as it bundles his small frame. If only for a moment, Andy is like any other healthy and energetic 12 year old boy waking to a Midwest summer day.
But as his eyes open more fully, he feels the cold, fluorescent lighting and the icy formica floor; the dream of home slowly begins to fade with every flicker of his heavy eyelids. The hospital room becomes more frighteningly real and brutally familiar with every waking moment. He can see his mom slumbering uncomfortably in the chair in the corner – where she has been every morning since he arrived at the Cleveland Clinic. The feeding tube they inserted stabs endlessly into his abdomen. His body fights hard but his heart knows this room will likely be the last he sees – at least the last in this world.
A critical care nurse checks into work and has been thinking about Andy since his arrival three weeks ago. Her unit handles only the sickest and terminal children on a regular basis, but Andy’s brain cancer is advanced and is unable to speak.
The nurse knows that today, Major League Umpires are visiting the children’s wing. It is part of the UMPS CARE Charities and the The BLUE for Kids children’s hospital program founded by MLB Umpires. They will be spending time visiting with the children and passing out the popular Build-a-Bear® every child seems to love. The umpires cannot visit this critical care wing and hearing from his Mom that Andy is a big Cleveland Indians fan, she gets special permission for the umpires to visit Andy.
The umpires arrive and introduce themselves to Andy and his mother. Not completely sure if Andy will understand, they relate that they are the umpires in town working the Indians game and they wanted to stop by to say hello and give him a bear and an outfit to choose. Andy’s mom picks out one and knowing Andy’s favorite team, selects the Cleveland Indians uniform. As one of the umpires, begins to dress the bear, tears begin to roll down Andy’s face. Andy’s mom sees the tears and her own begin to flow in a happiness that only a mother can know. It is one that she has not known for some time.
Andy’s mom sees the tears and her own begin to flow in a happiness that only a mother can know. It is one that she has not known for some time.
The umpires present the bear and after a few moments say their goodbyes. As the umpires leave the room the nurse stops them in the hallway. Her tears are the first thing they notice. As the nurse hugs each one of the umpires she tells them, “Thank you so much for coming. That was the first time he communicated with anyone the whole time he has been here.” She returned to Andy’s room and the umpires began making the long walk back to the other unit in silence.
That night, the umpires sit in the small umpires dressing room beneath the large stadium known to the locals as “The Jake.” In a few moments they will take the field as they do every night. They will hear the familiar chorus of boos, endure profanity laced tirades from a few of the most egregious fans. They know SportCenter waits obsessively, ready to pounce if any of the camera angles or HD slow motion replays can reveal even the hint of a mistake. Television announcers will unfairly accuse them of being over aggressive, thin skinned and bellow the tired chorus, “people pay to see the players not umpires.”
Emotions begin to well inside each of the men. They are not for themselves, or the criticism and abuse they will likely endure. They are not for their wives and children they have not seen in many weeks. No, the tears and emotions are for a young boy who lays silently in a hospital bed, clinging to life and a teddy bear in an Indians uniform.
They are for Andy, and he will be on their minds every pitch and play that night.
Mike Di Muro has been a Major League Umpire since 1999. He is the author of the official blog of UMPS CARE Charities. Please leave any questions or comments below.