By Ray Negron
I once saw the movie, The Pride of The Yankees. In the film there was a scene where Babe Ruth and a young Lou Gehrig visited a sick boy at a hospital. Babe Ruth promised to hit the little boy a home run. The little boy turned to Gehrig as Babe Ruth was leaving the room and asked the young Yankee if he would hit a homer for the sick boy. Gehrig asked, “Why would you want a homer from me when you already have the great Babe Ruth hitting you one?” The boy looked into Gehrig’s eyes and said, “Just because it’s you.” With that, Gehrig knew that he had no choice but to try his best to hit one for the little boy, but in return, he made the boy promise that he would do everything in his power to get well. Lou Gehrig told him that there isn’t anything you can’t do if you try hard enough. Well Gehrig homered and the little boy walked out of the hospital on his own free will. True story.
Eighty five years later, I received a call from a lady named Sally Cook, who is a volunteer at an organization called, Project Sunshine. Project Sunshine is a nonprofit that provides in-hospital programs and activities to young patients and their families facing medical challenges.
Sally was calling about a little girl named Alyssa and some other kids at a hospital in Manhattan and she asked me if I could bring a Yankee to visit the kids and read some children’s books to them. I asked the youngest Yankee, Brett Gardner and initially he said, “Those kids don’t want me, they want a Jeter or Mariano Rivera.” I told Brett that because he was closer in age to the kids they would really appreciate him so nervously he agreed. He actually read one of my books. “One Last Time: Good-Bye to Yankee Stadium” with Babe Ruth’s granddaughter. And he read “Hey Batta Batta Swing” written by Sally Cook. He was great and the kids didn’t want him to leave. This one little girl named Alyssa gave Brett a bracelet as he was walking out he turned to her and thanked her. He said, “If there is anything I can ever do for you let me know.” She said,” There is.” He asked,” What is that?” And she said, “Would you hit a homerun for me tonight?” Brett told her that he wasn’t a home run hitter but she asked him to please try anyway. He smiled at her and told her that if he played that evening he would try and then said,” Try to get better so that you can get out of here soon.” They both agreed.
The tough part for Alyssa was that she was suffering from a heart disease and had been waiting for a heart for quite a while. The last thing that Brett said to Alyssa was keep fighting.
When Brett got into my car he turned to me and said, ‘This is a nice mess you got me into. I don’t think I’m playing tonight.” I laughed and said, “Things always have a way of working out in the Yankee Universe. If you don’t play just remember that you made so many kids happy today.” He said, “I guess you’re right,” I could tell that he was bothered about not possibly coming through for Alyssa.
When we got to the ball park his name was not in the lineup card. The first thing that Brett did when he got to his locker was to hang Alyssa’s bracelet in a very prominent spot in his locker. That night, Brett sat on the bench and watched as we played the Minnesota Twins thinking that he was not going to get into the game and would disappoint the little girl. All of a sudden in the third inning something crazy happened- Johnny Damon, one of the nicest guys on the team who never argues about anything, got into an argument with the umpire about a called third strike and he got thrown out of the game. Manager Girardi told Brett to take over in left field.
When Brett came to bat in the seventh inning he hit a fly ball to left field that one way or another went past twins left fielder Denard Span and rolled all the way back to the wall and the extremely fast Brett Gardner circled the bases for an inside the park homerun! The stadium went crazy and I have never seen a bigger smile on Brett’s face. When the reporters crowded by Gardner’s locker, they could all see Alyssa’s bracelet. Brett explained the significance of the bracelet and gave the credit for his great game to Alyssa.
The Miracle didn’t end there. I received a call from Sally Cook, before I left the ball park that night that a heart was found for Alyssa. I couldn’t wait to run back to the locker room to tell Brett. He was just about to walk out when I caught him and broke the news to him. You would have thought that Alyssa was one of his own kids. That’s how happy he was.
This is exactly the reason why I love what I get to do. It started with Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig and it continues 95 years later with Brett Gardner, CC, Didi and all of the Baby Bombers.
This is the ten year anniversary of that very special game and Alyssa’s new heart. I sat down with Brett to talk about that miraculous day. I will post our Q&A tomorrow so stay tuned!
Additionally, Ray can be heard on weekends on IMPACT on ESPN Radio 1050am talking baseball and entertainment. His writes a weekly column for NY Sports Day, Newsmax And Baseball America. A powerful and inspirational speaker, he passionately shares his amazing journey, revealing his experience with the Bronx Bombers, special relationship with Steinbrenner and what it was like to hang around some of baseball’s greats. For more information about Ray please check out his website batboyhelps.com