It is only a short 15 minute drive along I-64 from Busch Stadium home of the St. Louis Cardinals, but it might as well be 15,000 miles.
The pediatric oncology wing of the St. Louis Children’s Hospital, looks strikingly similar to hospital wings across the country. Walking these halls, much like the innocent, young children here, one can never fully be prepared for what you are about to experience.
Along with fellow umpires, Tim Welke, Jim Reynolds and Andy Fletcher, we participated in the 62nd hospital visit since the inception of UMPS CARE Charities “Blue for Kids” program. Teaming up with Bristol-Myers Squibb, this visit was one of 12 hospitals that MLB Umpires will visit across the country this year alone. The program’s goal is simply to put a smile on a child’s face.
One of the great additions to the program in recent years has been the participation of the team’s mascots. From Cleveland’s Slider to the Philly Phanatic, these mascots have donated their time and talent to help bring smiles to these children and their families. It is sometimes the most unlikely and spontaneous act that can have the greatest significance and provide a moment of hope and meaning. On this morning, it was Fredbird, the St. Louis Cardinals’ mascot, that did just that.
One young boy laid silently in his bed, his exhausted small frame and heavy eyes revealed only a portion of the story. Tim Welke had his arms full of Build-A-Bears®, Andy Fletcher’s holding outfits for the bear, and their faces brimming with smiles, was still not enough to bring even a momentary reprieve to this young patient. Welke said, “he was so brave and trying so hard, but you could tell it was really tough for him.” Fredbird was making his way through the hallway, and at that moment he popped his oversized bird-head in the doorway. He bounced into the room and began to interact with the boy. Fredbird worked his magic but he was just unable to get any response and while the boy looked on intently, he was only able to remain motionless in his bed.
A huge smile appeared on the boy’s face and his laughter could not be contained. The boy’s mother, standing nearby, broke into tears of joy for her son.
Sensing the boy’s uneasiness, and with one final effort, Fredbird jumped onto the bed and sprawled out next to him. It was a moment so unexpected that our hearts jumped. A huge smile appeared on the boy’s face and his laughter could not be contained. The boy’s mother, standing nearby, broke into tears of joy for her son.
There is not much use for balls, strikes, safes or outs here. You will not find any of ESPN’s web gems in these prickly confines. But, more importantly, you will find gems of humanity. In the midst of so much pain and despair, the spirits of these tiny bodies bravely light up each room. It gives us a rare glimpse into something far beyond the game of baseball, something not to be seen, but rather felt. It is a hope, perhaps one that can only flow from Calvary.
Our thanks to all of those who have made this program possible, and a special thanks to Fredbird who made one very special boy, very happy.