FORT MYERS, Fla. – Craig Kimbrel is throwing on the field at Fenway Park. At least he was, before the snow came. His catcher is a young man from nearby Babson College who volunteered. Kimbrel has been gone from spring training for two weeks. His locker here is filled with T-shirts and shorts and uniforms and two caps, one red and one blue.
He is not here because his daughter, Lydia Joy, is in a hospital, recovering from her third heart surgery. She is four months old.
Maybe Kimbrel will return to camp and maybe he won’t. The Boston Red Sox aren’t much concerned about that. Instead, they wear red T-shirts that testify “We are LydiaStrong,” as of Sunday. Sometimes all you can do is wear a T-shirt and hope, wear a T-shirt and pray, wear a T-shirt and root for the little girl who is fighting so hard for today. Root for her to grow up and know her dad and her mom. Craig and Ashley held Lydia Joy on Sunday for the first time since the surgery, an event that happened to coincide with the LydiaStrong message reaching the Kimbrels in that hospital room.
We hold a special place for the people who treat our children well, who care for ours like we care for ours, who love them, sometimes just because they are ours, and who share that thing in our stomachs when it gets scary.
Robby Scott was pitching in Pawtucket two seasons back when Kimbrel arrived on a rehabilitation assignment. They met then, for as long as it took Kimbrel to pitch to three batters before hurrying back to Boston. They reconnected when Scott was summoned to the big leagues for a short time, and then again the following spring. Scott watched with interest as Kimbrel prepared for the season, copied some of it, then shared a bullpen bench and a clubhouse and their lives for much of last season. Maybe they’d make an odd pair – Kimbrel the superstar closer and Scott the undrafted lefty who’d chased a dream perhaps only he really believed in – but the life draws you in, draws you close, and the brotherhood begins to extend to the 21 hours around the games as well. Sometimes a few hearts start to sync up, sometimes more, and for two weeks it gnawed at Robby Scott that he was here and his friend was up there and the encouraging text messages and phone calls didn’t feel like enough.
So he made a T-shirt. And he hoped and prayed and rooted some more.
— Red Sox (@RedSox) March 11, 2018
In return, he received a photo of Lydia Joy in her parents’ arms.
“The word he uses the most is how big of a fighter she is,” Scott said Monday morning. “As big a fighter and competitor as Craig is, for him to say that about his daughter. She’s fighting.
“I don’t know for certain and I don’t want to speak for certain, but just by texts their spirits were high. They held her. They were with her. I think they were appreciative and thankful.”
As often as the job has allowed, Scott has visited the children’s hospital in Boston since he became a Red Sox. He goes for the children, of course, but then he couldn’t miss the parents. The children were smiling. The parents leaned into each other. They were the frightened ones. They were fighting for today, too, and fighting to believe there’d be a regular childhood out there soon, and silly jokes told around a dinner table, and sports and books and tears and wins and losses, all the stuff that’s supposed to come.
“The kids sometimes don’t even realize what they’re going through,” Scott said. “And the parents are taking the brunt of everything. They’re all waiting on that something that brings light and joy to the whole room.”
Just Sunday, across town, a 72-year-old man was talking about his heart, somebody else’s that became his only a about a year ago. Rod Carew said he was planning on playing golf again, not so much for the golf but for the early mornings that are so quiet, so perfect. He remembers standing on those first tees and smelling the mornings and, even then, before the new heart, wondering how he’d ever been so lucky.
Now he’s still palling around at Minnesota Twins camp with Tony Oliva. They take their wives to dinner together many nights, and they talk about playing that golf again soon, maybe just some chipping and putting to start. They celebrate the years their hearts have allowed, a couple of old men getting exactly what they deserve in retirement, balancing themselves on fungo bats and being grateful for it.
And you think about that tiny little girl, about so many like her, and their journeys ahead. You think about the parents nearby. So you put those words across your own chest – LydiaStrong – and hope the energy helps somehow.
“I think it’s just a sign of what this team is about,” Scott said. “Obviously without Craig being here it’s hard to show our support on a daily basis. We wanted him and his family to know we were thinking about them. We want Lydia strong. We want her healthy. And we want her to come home.”
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