We should have been tagging second base, but instead Andy was crying so hard I had to wheel him out of the ball game and take a break behind first. This was not the Andy I had come to know as the team’s star batter and my friend.
In between sniffles and hiccups, he told me he’d been to the doctor’s that day and might have to have surgery on one of his legs. He was sad and frightened and needed a hug.
A twelve-year-old with Cerebral Palsy, Andy possessed an amazing capacity to see the best in everyone he knew and help others recognize how much we all have to offer. The other young players, each with their own disabilities, had come to rely on him to boost their spirits when down. This was not a typical day at Buddy Baseball*!
And when we finally looked up from our hug, there sat Dougie. He was a beautiful child with a radiant smile and remarkable sensitivity to the pain of others. He was born without arms or legs and through determination and some magic of technology, he was able to maneuver a wheelchair using a lever in the middle of his seat. He could also hit a home-run and caught high pops in a baseball cap held by his teeth!
Today he looked at Andy and asked what was wrong. Andy hiccuped again and finally stuttered, “The doctor says he may have to operate on my leg.” And with his composure completely gone, he went back to sobbing.
Dougie paused, then simply said, “I wish I had a leg.”
Andy and I looked at each other. Then, still sniffling, Andy tilted his head to one side, took a deep breath and turned to Dougie. “You’re right,” he said. He sniffed one final time and smiled, “Come on, let’s go get a piece of pizza while it’s hot.”
I took a deep breath myself, as each young boy thinking only of food, headed toward the pizza truck.
About a year later, when I finished telling my elderly mother this story, she looked at me and shook her head. I said, “What, Mom? You don’t like the ending?”
“No,” she said. “It’s not that. I’m just thinking what everyone else you tell this story must think.”
“What’s that?” I asked, completely baffled.
“How’s that boy going to eat a piece of pizza?”
* Challenger Baseball (or Buddy Baseball as we all called it) was a program sponsored by the town I lived in years ago, for children with physical disabilities. Each player needed a ‘buddy’ to assist them.