Glancing up from the paper, the warm, humid air engulfs me as it looms thickly over the Charles River. I catch sight of a small scull which seems to glide effortlessly hovering just inches above the glassy surface. With every smooth stroke and cyclic pattern of the oars slicing through the water, the craft propels down the river and soon out of sight. I am here, in the Back Bay working a four game series at Boston’s famed Fenway Park.
As my attention is diverted back to the paper, a headline catches my eye: “Band of Billionaires Pledge to Give” Some of the richest in the world are joining an organization founded by Bill Gates and Warren Buffett. The article goes on to describe how they pledge to give away much of their wealth at some point in time and are encouraging others to do the same. They are doing so in high profile fashion as they jet set around the world signing up new billionaires. The numbers are staggering: the article estimates that upwards of $600 billion could be generated and given to charities. Can you imagine?
“Charity is not a thing you do, it’s love, it’s who you become.” –Mother Antonia Brenner from the book, The Prison Angel.
Setting the paper down, I begin thinking about our charity and my visit to the Boston Children’s Hospital only a day earlier. It was the seventh of twelve hospital events that Major League Umpires will visit as part of the UMPS CARE Charities, BLUE for Kids childrens hospital program this year. The program brings a crew of Major League umpires to the bedside of children with life-threatening illnesses. And we don’t come empty-handed. Each of us brings a Build-A-Bear® to the hospital room. We have teamed up with Bristol-Myers Squibb, an invaluable partner in the funding for this program.
This particular visit is special to the Sox faithful as Wally, the Green Monster accompanies us and provides ear to ear smiles as everyone recognizes the Red Sox mascot. The kids, parents and hospital staff light up seeing Wally and our carts loaded with Build-A-Bears® as we move down the hall.
We set up initially in the pre-op area at a table and children of various ages eagerly approach and select a bear and choose a custom outfit. The mood of apprehension and worry seem to get a momentary reprieve and give way to laughter and giggles as Wally bounces his way around warming the entire room. Red Sox photographer, Cindy Loo takes a break from the bright Fenway lights volunteering to photograph the entire event. Afterward she tells me, “This kind of event capturing these moments with the kids is absolutely my favorite thing to do.”
Later we move floor to floor with hospital child life specialists, along side Bristol-Myers Squibb volunteers, Deb Merlino-Curtin and Bill Walsh, and visit the kids room to room. As I enter each room I see the faces of children who, under normal circumstances, would be seen lighting up the playground with broad grins and sounds of carefree laughter. These kids are far from the playground and the faces of their parents bear the weight of what they so bravely cope with each and every day.
With each room brings a new child and a new family into my life. Their courageous spirit shines and carves an indelible mark while time seems to stand still in each room. The trivial complaints of balls and strikes and the relentless ESPN criticism of my peers and profession all but evaporate in the misty eyes of children fighting for their lives.
Entering the final room that I am to visit, I am greeted by a young 4 year old girl named Ella. Walking into her room she is out of her bed and standing next to her mother. Ella turns her small frame with the sound of my voice and her gaze immediately gravitates to the bears I am holding. A smile stretches across her tiny face which lights up the entire room and the emotions begin to stir inside me. They are not emotions of sadness or despair. But rather a feeling that at this very moment, in this hospital room, I am exactly where I am supposed to be.
Ella shyly picks out a bear and outfit and all the while beaming with the most beautiful smile. Ella’s excitement spreads to everyone in the room as we help her dress the bear. Eventually I say my goodbyes and as she tightly squeezes her new furry friend, Ella leans her head into my arm and softly says, “Thank you.”
Folding the paper and setting it down on the bench, I begin to slow the memories of little Ella and the Boston Children’s Hospital. My mind tells me the “Band of Billionaires” will likely do a great deal of goodwill and our charity’s budget pales in comparison as they set out to give away astronomical sums of money.
But my heart knows a $25 teddy bear and a little girl’s smile is more valuable any day of the year.
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.