A few hours before the Royals played host to Detroit on Tuesday night at Kauffman Stadium, Teresa and David Thaman of Joplin, Mo., stood above the dugout steps holding the simple but irresistible placard she’d made:
“I Traveled To KC for Cancer Treatment AND To Meet SALVY!”
As Salvador Perez made his way off the field toward the clubhouse, he glimpsed the sign and did a fine thing: He stopped and greeted the couple.
That wasn’t enough, though, for the charismatic catcher. He immediately asked an usher to navigate them down to the field before a game in which he’d hit a home run and set a career record with five RBIs on the way to an 8-6 Royals victory.
And who’s to say the two circumstances weren’t related?
If you don’t know what distinguishes a friendly acknowledgment and a special gesture, if you don’t know how you might go from a dutiful act to making someone’s day, you saw it after Perez’s invitation.
“Why not? She has cancer, and I just like to make people happy,” he said. “Hopefully, God blesses that girl, and she’ll be alive for a long time.”
So in front of the dugout Perez hugged Teresa Thaman, 49, who has thyroid cancer and skin cancer and severe muscle atrophy in her neck from radiation for treatment of Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
“Oh, my God,” she said as soon as she reached him, and maybe seconds later she was misting up.
After she’d finished posing for a few pictures and getting one last hug, she was weeping so hard she had to ask her husband to spell their last name because she couldn’t get the letters out. She kept crying as she clutched a ball Perez had signed and batting gloves he gave her and a collar she usually wears around her neck so she can just hold it up, because her neck is so weak now.
“I just love him because he always is smiling,” she said, pausing to catch her breath some. “And he just seems like a really good guy. I love him. He just keeps me healthier.”
In her spontaneous, unfiltered joy, she looked at her doting husband and playfully blurted out: “If Salvy will have me, he’s gone. He’s out of here.”
“She’s told me that,” David said, smiling, “but I keep hanging on. Brought her here, anyway.”
Really, they were here for a visit to the University of Kansas Medical Center, where it seems they’ve been weekly since she was diagnosed with thyroid cancer last year and where she’ll return next week for a skin-cancer procedure “to see how far they have to dig down.”
Along the way, the former Missouri Department of Mental Health investigator has been sustained not just by treatment but by personal morale boosts, including the constancy of her husband, 50, a police officer.
Last fall she was thrilled by an introduction after a Chiefs game to safety Eric Berry, who returned to the field last season after being diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
“It was very special,” she said.
But nothing has provided a more soothing long-term diversion for her than the Royals through their — and her — good times and bad. Mostly it’s because of the way they play and their obvious camaraderie.
“Because they’re just like brothers, and they just lift me up,” said Teresa, who by game time had made a picture with Perez and her the wallpaper of her Facebook page. “You can tell they care about each other. … I’m just obsessed with them.”
The family has known a hard few years.
As next-door neighbors were killed and many on their street seriously injured and their house destroyed in the horrific Joplin tornado in 2011, they thought they were going to die when they huddled in their bathroom with daughter Kayla.
“We’re just lucky to be alive, that’s for sure,” Teresa said, noting that even after that the Royals helped give them “a sense of normalcy.”
It’s not simple to reconcile surviving that with all this sickness, some of which remains a mystery and some of which is confusing to treat because of how it might affect other aspects of her health.
But she figures it this way: “God has a plan for me. I just have to figure out what it is.”
In the meantime there is the phenomenon of Royals baseball and Perez.
Following two spellbinding seasons that have made every night at the park riveting, Perez made more magic on Tuesday before the game even started by going a step beyond what he might have seen as plenty.
“I can’t believe this. I’m very happy,” she said during this reprieve from so much else.
After Perez’s three-run homer in the fifth inning, she texted, “I am still so excited. Best day ever!”