Aug. 1, 2007
By Jessica Isner
BOSTON, MA — Sometimes, you just need to take a step back.
For some people, life isn’t all about extra innings, or trading for Kevin Garnett, or keeping a double-digit lead over the Yankees in the division standings. Some people just have more important issues to deal with.
On Tuesday, four members of the Cotuit Kettleers traveled to the Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Boston to learn something about life beyond the baseball diamond. All morning, Chris Fetter (Michigan), Josh Harrison (Cincinnati), Aaron Baker (Oklahoma), and Jim Birmingham (Pennsylvania) signed autographs, distributed baseball cards, and just talked some baseball with adult cancer patients at the treatment center.
“They must’ve drawn the short straw, having to come here today,” said one weary mother with a smile as she watched her teenage daughter undergo chemotherapy.
Quite the contrary. The players who drew the short straws were the ones who had to stay home.
The Kettleers may have been there to inspire the patients, but it turns out that the players were the ones who stood to be inspired.
“It’s a great experience to be able to spend some time with people in this situation,” Baker said. “There are a lot of things we take for granted, and seeing [people in] this situation really makes you think about what God blessed you with.”
Margaret Hill, a member of the Cotuit Athletic Association and a long-time host parent for the Kettleers, had her own reasons for starting what has become an annual trip to Dana Farber. During her senior year of college, her mother was diagnosed with lung cancer. She died when Hill was 22 years old, on the morning of her wedding. This personal tragedy inspired Hill to become a nurse so that she could play a small part in brightening the days of too many cancer patients who don’t really have anything to look forward to. She got involved with Dana Farber over ten years ago and worked there until a leg injury and family duty forced her to find a job closer to home.
The generosity and encouragement of the Cotuit Athletic Association played a large hand in helping Hill deal with her loss; over the years, the Association has continued to show its support by sending players to Dana Farber every summer to visit with the patients and make their days just a little bit more bearable.
“Anything you can do to help, you want to do it,” Harrison said. “I try to make them laugh. Everyone knows that being here is sad and depressing, so anywhere I can, I try to make them laugh. [These patients] deal with this every day, so it’s nice to be able to give them something else to think about.”
The players, though, posed more than a mere distraction; their enthusiasm and their humor showed that their willingness to be at the clinic was genuine. These players didn’t make the trip up to Boston because of a coach’s threat or a guilt trip. They came because they really, truly wanted to- and it was obvious.
As the players made their way through the clinic, patients looked up at them with a mixture of wonder and amusement, asking questions about big league aspirations and spending a summer in the heart of Red Sox Nation.
The most frequently-asked question?
“So, how are you guys doing this season? Are you going the playoffs?”
“Well,” the players would answer carefully, “we’re… having fun.”
“And that’s the most important thing,” the patients would answer back.
Isn’t that the truth?
“Once you come here, you realize that baseball is a very small part of life,” Birmingham said. “Your parents try to tell you that growing up, but it’s good to experience it, [too]. You see these people and what they’re going through, and you realize that being healthy is what’s important.”
Suddenly, a 13-game losing streak doesn’t seem like such a big deal after all.
It’s nice to go to the playoffs. It’s nice to beat the Yankees, and it’s nice to make something exciting happen on the day of the trading deadline. But that’s all it is- nice. There’s more to life than sports, and in a place like Boston where that perception gets seriously distorted every fall, winter, and summer, it’s important to have a reality check every once in a while.
Sports are supposed to be fun. They’re supposed to put smiles on people’s faces- and, judging by those patients’ reactions to the Kettleers on Tuesday, baseball seemed to have served its purpose for the day.
“There is nothing more gratifying than putting a smile on their faces,” Fetter said. “I wouldn’t rather do anything else with my time.”