Yordano Ventura emerged from the Royals’ dugout on a warm May afternoon last year, clutching a baseball.
Eight-year-old Amelia Meyer’s joy couldn’t be contained as she caught a glimpse of the pitcher. This was a dream come true: The two were going to be photographed together for the annual Braden’s Hope calendar.
“When we got there to Kauffman Stadium and we were taken out to the field, we didn’t know who Amelia would be paired up with,” Amelia’s mother, Jill Meyer, said Monday. “When Yordano walked out on the field and we realized it was him, we were of course incredibly excited. He’s an amazing pitcher. He was holding in his hand a baseball that he had already autographed for Amelia. On the baseball he had written to Amelia, ‘Happy birthday,’ and he had signed it.”
Amelia’s ninth birthday was the next day, and unfortunately it would be her last. She died on Oct. 26 after a battle with brain cancer.
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The annual Braden’s Hope calendar features 12 months of photos of Royals players, each with a child who is battling cancer. It’s designed to raise money for Braden’s Hope For Childhood Cancer, a nonprofit organization that raises “awareness and funds for research grants to hospitals and/or research institutions in the amount of $100,000.”
Meeting a major-league ballplayer is a big deal for a child, but the kids often touch the lives of the Royals, too. For instance, pitcher Danny Duffy dedicated a start last season to the family of an 8-year-old boy he had gotten to know through Braden’s Hope.
Amelia was a huge Royals fan and was thrilled to be chosen for the photo shoot. It’s noteworthy that she may have had that chance earlier through the Make-A-Wish Foundation, but Amelia instead chose to ask others to help clean parks last February in Kansas City and elsewhere around the country.
Meyer has continued her daughter’s quest to help her community with the Amelia Meyer Kindness Project; you can find out more about that here.
But the Royals were always close to Amelia’s heart, and she followed the team intently during its postseason runs in 2014 and 2015.
It was shortly after the World Series championship parade in 2015 that Amelia was diagnosed, and the family’s world was turned upside down.
But Meyer said Amelia and Ventura “really clicked” on that special day, and that he made sure to include Amelia’s older brother, Carson, in the fun.
“When Amelia received her cancer diagnosis and we learned what a serious form of cancer it was, besides the fear of losing my daughter, there was also the fear of having her childhood stolen from her while she was fighting this battle,” Meyer said.
“On that day, she got to be a kid again. Cancer wasn’t a thought, it wasn’t an issue. It was just a happy day.”
In a sad twist, Amelia and Ventura are the January photos in the calendar. And now they are both gone.
On Sunday, as Meyer heard the first reports of Ventura’s death, she hoped it was just a hoax. Unfortunately, it turned out to be true.
“I was heartbroken,” Meyer said. “He was such an important part of our journey with Amelia and of that day. He was so kind and made her feel incredibly special. I felt I had lost a little part of her again.”