Written by John S. Condakes
Stacy Wardwell photo
SMILES ALL AROUND – Cotuit Kettleers Robbie Shields, Drew Storen, Matt Holliman, and Michael Gilmartin enjoy a special moment with 5-year-old Christina Johnson, a patient at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Boston. The players visited there in keeping with a tradition started decades ago by former Red Sox great Ted Williams.
Located not too far from one of baseball’s most hallowed grounds in the heart of Boston stands a building that athletes have flocked to for decades.
The Jimmy Fund Clinic and Dana Farber Cancer Institute have welcomed these well-known visitors as they spread smiles from floor to floor.
On July 30 Cotuit Kettleers infielders Robbie Shields, Michael Gilmartin, and Matt Holliman and pitcher Drew Storen carried on a tradition started by Red Sox Hall-of-Fame slugger Ted Williams, and saw for themselves what the incredible people in the facilities’ care go through.
The players’ first stop was a trip upstairs to the Jimmy Fund Clinic to spend time with youngsters who are fighting cancer. There was a very somber feeling in the air as they strolled down a hallway lined with bright paintings of scenes from Disney movies.
Rosemary Lonborg, wife of former Red Sox pitcher and 1967 Cy Young Award winner Jim Lonborg, greeted the foursome. Rosemary became involved with the clinic when Jim was pitching for Boston. They stayed in town after his career ended, so she was able to remain involved.
“It’s amazing to see how much joy it brings the kids,” said Lonborg. “Some of the current Red Sox players come in a few times a year. They’ve even brought in the World Series trophy.”
The players took time to enjoy the kids’ company as they chatted, played and did arts and crafts. Storen jumped at the opportunity to finger-paint with one of the younger patients, while one boy wowed the players with his truck-drawing abilities. The lad drew them a picture and autographed it as a thank you to the
“Walking in there and seeing those kids with cancer was very humbling,” said Shields. “Not many people realize what kids like that go through and I would go again in a heartbeat.”
For other patients, something as trivial as having hair has become somewhat of a blessing. Five-year-old Christina Johnson was diagnosed with a brain tumor, which was removed, but her communication skills are limited. Prior to the operation she had straight blonde hair and after months of treatment, she now sports brown curls. “Her hair color doesn’t matter,” said her mother. “We’re just happy to have it.”
After signing some programs and baseballs for the children in the Jimmy Fund Clinic, the players took the elevator up to the tenth floor to socialize with older patients.
Seated in a room with a birds-eye view of downtown Boston was Sergeant Scott Miller, who had been stationed in Iraq with the Military Police. After originally thinking that he had a blood clot, Miller was flown to a military hospital in Washington, D.C. to have some tests done. It was there he learned that he had cancer, so he shipped up to Dana Farber for treatment.
The players thanked Sgt. Miller for his service and gave him a signed baseball and a team yearbook along with well wishes for a speedy recovery.
“It not only touched my heart but it really opened my eyes about how precious life is,” said Holliman.
Just down the hall, the players crossed paths with a patient named Adrian. All four were deeply touched by him because of his positive outlook on life after having undergone a tracheotomy during to a battle with throat cancer. They spoke with Adrian for some time, and even invited him down to Cotuit to attend a game.
“Adrian was very inspiring to me,” said Storen. “He was told that he only had six months to live two and a half years ago. He wasn’t in good shape but he was still happy. It makes you realize that there are much bigger problems in life than you think.”
It wasn’t only the players who were involved in the Dana Farber mission. Lisa Mathieu, a resident of Cotuit and a Kettlleers host parent, drove the players to Boston. As she biked in the Pan-Mass Challenge on Aug. 2 and 3, Mathieu wore the names and photos of patients visited by the four Cotuit players. She hopes that the visitation program will continue to grow so that the Kettleers can make multiple visits during the summer in upcoming years.
The four Kettleers immensely enjoyed their visits with the patients, never hesitating to introduce themselves.
“It was quite remarkable,” said Mathieu. “One player would start chatting with someone and they would all follow. We almost had trouble getting them to move from person to person,” she added with a smile.
The spirit of Ted Williams lives on through the efforts of these young players. These four talented and caring young men will have numerous opportunities to carry on the mission of spreading joy to those in need as they pursue their ultimate goal of becoming major league ball players.
“Just to see those people there was inspiring,” said Gilmartin. “They’re just regular people who got a bad break and hopefully some day we’ll find a cure for them.”
John Condakes is an intern for the Cotuit Kettleers and is their Associate Web Editor. Condakes, from Weston, is a senior at Boston University where he is majoring in sociology with a journalism minor and hopes to pursue a career in sports journalism.