Spring is near, flowers are blooming, and baseball is in the air. I get excited each year when it’s time for pitchers and catchers to report to spring training. You see, as a Cubs fan, each year brings a new hope. There’s hope in rookies, non-roster invitees, that last year’s rookies will be able to avoid the sophomore slump, hope that older players will find the fountain of youth and that last year’s heroes will avoid injury and be heroes once again…
One of my favorite things about baseball is the wealth of individual stories from the many young men year by year who make or nearly make the major league club. Baseball has been linked both to the personalities of its players and to the writers who tell the players’ and teams’ stories for years. Certainly, no off-field story can top the experience and memory of those done on the baseball diamond, but the wealth of human-interest stories at least serves to continually fuel the furnace fires in the hearts of baseball lovers of all ages throughout the ages.
This spring training, a story came out of the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox camps. This rivalry is quite storied dating back at least to the Red Sox selling of the contract of young left-handed pitcher Babe Ruth to the Yankees and continues to date, but this story transcends the rivalry.
Hours before a game last September, word went around the Yankee clubhouse that hitting coach Kevin Long wanted to gather the entire team for a rare meeting.
Soon, the players were huddled up, and Long told them about Bridget, an 11-year-old girl they had never met, the daughter of Ron Johnson, the first base coach for the Red Sox.
Bridget, Long said, had been in an accident. She was riding a horse alongside the road in August, near the Johnsons’ Tennessee home. A driver came around the corner a little too fast and plowed into Bridget’s horse, severing the young girl’s leg above the knee.
Bridget survived, and doctors re-attached the leg — but her body rejected it, and it had to be removed. She would need a prosthetic leg, and although the Red Sox had been financially generous to Johnson, money was still a problem, Long told the roomful of Yankee players…
Bridget’s story touched the Yankees. It did not matter one bit that Johnson worked for the rival Red Sox, pitcher A.J. Burnett said.
“He came to us, and you could hear it in K-Long’s voice how important it was to him,” Burnett said. “You just wanted to help in any way you can. We’re a huge family here. Whether you’re a Yankee or anybody else, we’re all in it together.”…
“When you hear things like that, it’s a fellow worker. You just want to help. Especially when it comes to the family, you know?” Rivera said.
One by one, they wrote out checks to help — significant checks, though none would say how much. They were said to be just as generous as the Red Sox players, who themselves had ”passed the hat” and opened their wallets to help the Johnsons through.
Long gathered it all up and mailed it to Tennessee, where Ron Johnson had just spent 34 straight days living in the hospital with his daughter, as she healed and learned to adjust to life without her leg.
“We got out of the hospital, we got home, and one day this package showed up from the Yankees,” Johnson said.
Johnson opened it, curious, his wife Daphane nearby.
“I said, ‘Huh?’ And it was from Kevin. With a little note, saying ‘I never forgot what you did for me, and I hope this helps.’ It was incredible. I showed it to Daphane, she started crying,” Johnson said.
Good form, Yankees. Good form indeed.