KANSAS CITY -- Duncan Hay is a 16-year-old Athletics fan from Asheville, N.C., and when you ask him why he cheers for Oakland and why he can't wait to see A's rookie pitcher Ryan Cook on Tuesday at the All-Star Game, he gestures to his father Jerome standing next to him and says, "This guy right here."
"I grew up in Tennessee," Jerome Hay explained, "and I played on a team called the Athletics and that just became the team I cheered for and I never stopped rooting. There had to be irrational reasons, but that's professional sports. It was at the time of the 1972, '73, '74 A's."
"Now I'm a fan," his son said.
"He's still waiting for the next resurgence," added Jerome. "It happens every few years."
Here they were on Saturday night at the Crowne Plaza Hotel right across from Major League Baseball's All-Star FanFest, talking baseball along with other family members, the boy tightly gripping a bat emblazoned with his name, a bag of goodies and an autograph from Royals legend Willie Wilson. Being here was Duncan's wish. He has something most kids never should have to learn to pronounce, Myelodysplastic syndrome, and they were here for a Make-A-Wish welcome reception.
"It's fun. I don't know if I would have ever had another chance to come out here and do this," Duncan said. "I wouldn't be in here meeting stars and future stars, so it means a lot."
Make-A-Wish has been doing this since 1980, granting nearly 300,000 wishes in that time to children with life-threatening medical conditions to enrich the human experience with hope, strength and joy. MLB has a longtime relationship with the organization, granting 70 wishes since 2000 for kids to go to the All-Star Game and World Series games. These families arrived during the day on Saturday, and they will have a tour of FanFest Sunday morning and then will attend all the All-Star Week events.
The event on Saturday night was hosted by MLB and the Royals, and in attendance were six courageous kids from around the country, all of whom are uplifted right now more than anyone can say. Along with Hay, the other five children were Benjamin Bilbro, 13, of the Greater Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana chapter; Jeffrey Newcomer, 18, of Illinois; Melissa Hanson, 12, of Wisconsin; Roman Scott, 12, of Illinois; and John Patchett, 11, of Missouri. To watch them is to appreciate your life.
"You think about how you can love, how you can help, how you can give it back," Wilson said. "Jeffrey, I was holding his bag, and he just said to me, 'Hey, don't forget my bag.' So that was pretty cool. It lets you know they are really great kids and they have a sense of humor like everybody else. It's just that things happened to them that didn't happen to most healthy kids. They survived. You don't want to feel bad for them, because they don't feel bad for themselves."
Tim Brosnan, MLB executive vice president of business, was there along with MLB Goodwill Ambassador Vera Clemente, Roberto's widow; SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game players Danny Hultzen of the Mariners' Triple-A Tacoma affiliate and Billy Hamilton of the Reds' Class A advanced affiliate in Bakersfield, Calif. So was Toby Cook, aka "Mr. Everywhere" this week, the vice president of community affairs and publicity for the Royals. Bill Tracy, vice chair of the Missouri governing board for Make-A-Wish, welcomed them, as did Wilson and a batch of MLB mascots.
"The All-Star Game is a huge event in the baseball family, but it's made only more special by the fact that guests like you come out and honor us by your presence," Brosnan told the families. "Your attendance here today with us really inspires us. We're in awe of the challenges that you've stared down and faced, and the inspiration you provide to us. But just like every other baseball fan, what we really want for you is to go away with a lifetime full of baseball memories after this All-Star Week."
"For me, it puts things in perspective, what matters in life," said Hultzen, who is expected to be up in the future with the Mariners. "Just seeing these kids and knowing what they've gone through, and just being able to put a smile on their face is special. You walk in and you don't really know what to expect. You couldn't tell who is going through what. It seems like they are a great group of kids."
Duncan Hay had a big smile on his face, especially when he posed for the group photos and the Rays' mascot, Raymond, pretty much stole the show. The teenager was not thinking at the time about MDS, which is a condition where the bone marrow is unable to produce enough cells to keep up with the number of cells removed by the spleen, liver and other organs leading to a reduced number of cells in the body, increasing the risk of bleeding, infection, and problems related to anemia.
No, he was not thinking about that. He was thinking about how one day he could turn the tables and help someone else with a wish of their own, perhaps. He was enjoying hearing Wilson talk about his playing days. Their blissful days in Kansas City were now under way, Kauffman Stadium beckoned, and Hay said he appreciated what was being done here.
"It's just nice to know that somebody's out there doing this sort of stuff for people who have been through hard times," Hay said. "It's just good to know that."