So you know when you have one of those "that was awesome" smiling moments? Courtesy of friends, the Marlins, and the Phillies, the whole Sharpe family got to experience that together. Few things in the last year were as fun as last night's Phillies-Marlins game in Miami.
My buddy Trevor played and coached in the Expos organization, and after his career, worked for the Marlins. He pulled some strings with his former co-workers to get us field passes for batting practice. His friend Angela brought us down through the media tunnel and right out onto the field. We got to stand behind the batting practice cage and watch both teams warm up, long toss, and hit. Domonic Brown launched some bombs into right field, and the constant crack of the bat was a great backdrop for taking in something few fans get to witness that close.
At some point, Angela asked Juan Pierre (who is back with the Marlins) to come over and say hello. Not only did he come by, he got Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley to do the same. So, one by one, they sauntered over and said hi to the entire family. Juan got a picture with us. Jimmy signed Josie's Phillie Phanatic book – he smiled and laughed when I said the Phanatic was her favorite player. Chase came over shortly afterwards and went right to Josie, saying, "You're not going to let Jimmy sign your book and not me, are you?" He signed Mom's "Utley 26" tote bag, and got a picture with all of us.
The entire encounter was just… cool. Trevor, who has been on ball fields for years, texted me at one point saying no matter how old you are, being that close to the field is an amazing experience. I cannot think of a better way to describe it. Just being a tangential part of the lead-up to a game made for a great experience. Having Josie be old enough to kinda-sorta understand what was going on was nice, although both kids were as enamored with the big fish tank built into the backstop as they were with the famous ballplayers just a few steps away. One day they will look at the pictures and create their own lasting memories from them.
The cynic might say that this is all part of the "job" and ballplayers get paid a lot of money and should interact with the fans. I am glad I am not one of those people. Each player was generous with their time and made the game memorable for all of us. Jimmy's smile and attitude were the same up-close as they are on TV. Chase, for the "serious" label he gets for game-time intensity, was laid back, friendly and accommodating. Juan Pierre chatted with us like we were old friends. It is nice they said hi to some cancer patient lucky enough to have a hook-up with the Marlins. It's that much better they took the time to interact with a 3-year-old child who just became a much bigger baseball fan. They made a great experience even more special.
When I was right out of college, a guy from work got me into a semi-pro football league for a couple of games. While that didn't last long, I do remember after one of the games signing a couple of programs for kids – I'm sure those kids are paying for college now with the riches they got by selling my autograph on eBay. Anyways, the one thing I remember about that is the excitement that a bunch of 8-year-olds got from meeting players; one even held my helmet. It has to be rewarding for players like Rollins or Utley to get that in every city they play, to see the game through the wonderment of a child (and some wide-eyed adults, too).
My Mom, Dad, and cousin John all picked a good weekend to come visit. Jen and I told them about the game, but not about the passes or the seats 10 rows behind the Phillies dugout. They were pretty surprised when Angela jokingly (I think) said, "We don't usually let Phillies fans on the field for batting practice, but this one time we'll make an exception." Billy the Marlin stopped by a couple times and even brought Marlins shirts for the kids (nice try Billy – they are being raised Phillies fans). Eric Kratz threw me a ball walking off the field in the 8th inning, and home plate ump Sam Holbrook handed one up for Tommy as they walked off the field, too. We even got an extended cameo on Comcast during the 7th inning stretch – look for the cute little Phillies fan Tommy on my shoulders if you have the game DVR'ed. Talk about getting spoiled at a young age; the only way I ever got that close to the action as a kid was sneaking down to the box seats at the Vet, something Jason and I became fairly adept at growing up.
I can't thank Trevor and Angela from the Marlins enough for taking the time to get us on the field, and hanging out for nearly two hours while we took in the experience. Even the Phillies loss and a post-game monsoon that soaked us for the car ride home didn't dampen anyone's experience. As I told Angela during batting practice, the generosity of everyone during my fight, even complete strangers, has been nothing short of overwhelming. I am the luckiest guy in the world with cancer – and when I beat this thing, there will a long list of people that I get to thank for keeping me going. Who thought back in August that list would include a couple of World Champions named Rollins and Utley?