Our minds have a funny way of scraping up every detail of the important moments in our lives: where we were, what we were wearing, what we’d just eaten, etc. For this important day, I was in the recliner, eating waffles, wearing shorts and a T-shirt.
This was September 4, 2013. My buddy Dylan texted me, asking if I’d be interested in a Royals game on Monday evening, September 16. I told him probably not, as that day was the start of my second round of chemo.
“And what if I told you it would include being on the field during batting practice and watching the game from the press box, courtesy of Sam Mellinger (and the Royals)?”
I called Dylan to inquire further. He explained that not long after I’d been diagnosed with stage four esophageal carcinoma, he emailed Sam to see if there was any way he could do something to lift my spirits.
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“I’d love to help out,” Sam replied.
So I changed my tune. And after day one of round two of chemotherapy, Dylan and I made our way to Kauffman Stadium.
I asked Sam no fewer than a million questions about sports writing. I swapped stories and talked baseball with Jeff Montgomery and Joel Goldberg. Dylan and I talked with Rex Hudler during batting practice, who swore he’d met us before. He hadn’t.
The Royals won and James Shields struck out 10 batters.
The night itself was great. Striking up a new friendship with a sports columnist I loved reading and meeting broadcasters I loved watching was a blast.
(Sam, too, had a ball that night, thanking the Royals for facilitating this special experience and saying, “I am quite sure I enjoyed that night as much as he did.”)
But the bigger part of that night was the incredible feeling of people going out of their way to perk me up when I really needed it.
The spirit of the action was wonderful in and of itself. The kindness of friends and strangers was absolutely amazing.
I think a lot about that night. I’ve thought about it even more recently with Sam’s recent update on Royals fan Tim Grimes, who continues to impressively defy doctors and stay ahead of his cancer.
I feel a lot of ambivalence about Tim’s story. In one way I hate it because he’s dealing with an awful disease. But I also love it because it serves as a perfect example of so many people’s generosity and Tim’s strength and spirit in the face of tragedy.
I don’t know Tim (though I would like to), but there’s a funny connection cancer survivors have with one another. It’s a nonverbal connection; a secret handshake for a club that nobody wants into.
Of course no two cancer stories are exactly the same, but there is still a fellowship in which cancer survivors see each other and think, “I get it.”
But my favorite part of Tim’s story is the other part we share. We both know what it is like to see friends rallying around us for no reason other than they care.
We know what it means when complete strangers join the cause all in the name of a shared love of a team and a shared devotion to a silly ballgame.
So, Tim — and survivors everywhere — I get it. And it’s awful. But to everyone who has seen or experienced so many great acts of kindness, I get that too; and it’s absolutely fantastic.