When 6-year-old Noah Wilson was in Children’s Mercy Hospital being treated for bone cancer last October, he crafted a birthday card on blue poster board to his favorite Royal, first baseman Eric Hosmer.
Even amid the pandemonium of the World Series, even when he surely was deluged by others seeking his attention, Hosmer took to Twitter to send out a picture of the card and Noah, grinning and clad in a Hosmer jersey.
“Thanks for my birthday sign #noahwilson,” Hosmer wrote. “You are the man and can't wait to meet you one day from your biggest fan HOZ.”
As it happened, they met soon thereafter, at the World Series, no less, and Hosmer took special interest in Noah and his fight and his cause.
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So much so that he was jarred by the news Noah had died Tuesday night from leukemia, which surfaced after Noah was thought to be in remission from bone cancer following his last radiation treatment in mid-June.
That’s why before the Royals game against Minnesota on Thursday at Kauffman Stadium, the normally vibrant Hosmer was subdued even as he prepared to return to the lineup for the first time since Sunday after working through a finger injury.
That’s why he turned somber when it came to Noah, whom he called “my hero” on Twitter.
“It’s a terrible situation, obviously. Something that …,” he said, before pausing. “Something I really don’t want to talk about, to be honest with you.”
Still, he added, “Just hearing the news, him finally beating (cancer) and then stuff came back up, it’s hard as a friend … hearing the news. I couldn’t imagine what his family is going through.
“But they’re strong people. They know he’s in a better place. They know he’s not suffering. He’s not going through any more treatments or any more battles with cancer. He’s in a good place.”
Someday it might be more consoling for Hosmer to know Noah’s place here was better because of Hosmer, whose sincere dedication to youth is apparent from his active advocacy for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Kansas City.
Imagine the impact made by an idol, once a remote stranger, taking the time not just to acknowledge but to extend warmth and encouragement through videos and tweets and a few meetings.
It’s a different sort of impact than that of family and close friends and those who treated him and tried to make him as comfortable as possible.
But it also mattered a lot.
Hosmer “really touched his heart,” Noah’s father, Scott, told The Star on Wednesday.
Maybe you’d be hard-pressed to find a more pure and piercing synopsis of that than the video of Noah last month extolling fans to vote for Hosmer for the All-Star Game.
“I just want all of you guys to know to vote for Eric Hosmer, because I know he’s going to do good in the All-Star Game. So I want you to vote for him, because he’s my favorite player … So I need everybody to try and vote for him so he can play in the All-Star Game.”
As much as Noah’s heart was touched by Hosmer, though, the opposite is just as striking and true in an ascending star who has remained grounded and accessible.
And that’s a poignant reminder of the special symbiotic relationship between the Royals and their fans, a relationship that now includes the franchise working with Noah’s Bandage Project.
To a certain baseline extent, many major sports franchises and their fans have a deep-rooted connection.
But last October, some combination of a relatively small market size and the generation-plus of futility that preceded the 2014 postseason revived faith and passion in the fan base that could be shared personally with the team in ways that couldn’t happen just anywhere.
An organization that makes it a passion to be part of the community fosters that attitude in its players, and many take it to heart between their charitable work and just being among us.
That’s why former Royal Billy Butler could get on Twitter the morning the Royals would clinch the American League Championship and announce where he was going to breakfast.
And Lorenzo Cain would go to Town Topic for burgers late at night in the postseason.
And Hosmer could use social media to urge fans to join players at McFadden’s to celebrate the American League Division Series sweep of the Angels — and then plunk down a credit card to pay the $15,000 bill for all.
Extending themselves thusly, of course, makes them more human … and more vulnerable.
And maybe nothing represents that better than the emotions of Noah Wilson’s biggest fan.
“It’s a tough story,” Hosmer said.
To reach Vahe Gregorian, call 816-234-4868 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @vgregorian.