Saturday, July 6, 2013

Remembering who you're playing for...

Bryce Harper is in his second year with the Washington Nationals. He's proven himself to be an extraordinary athlete and a fan favorite, but amazingly, for someone so young (he's 20 years old), he's proven himself to be a pretty extraordinary man as well. Despite a periodic inability to control his frustration or excitement (which usually winds up with him sustaining an injury or two), Harper conducts himself in a manner you don't often see in professional athletes, particularly ones so new to the success and notoriety he is experiencing.

That being said, I was still impressed when I saw the Washington Post's account of Harper's recent visit with a terminally ill fan.

Thirteen-year-old Gavin Rupp, of Ashburn, Virginia, has been battling cancer for two years. Gavin received radiation treatment and visited Children’s National Medical Center, twice undergoing surgery to remove a glioblastoma tumor from his brain. But despite the aftereffects of radiation and surgery, Rupp never stopped playing baseball, still keeping his starting position (shortstop) on his travel team.

Last month, the Rupps found out that Gavin's cancer had returned, and no further treatment options existed. But despite the bleak prognosis, Gavin was invited by the Nationals to throw out the first pitch during Friday's game against the Padres. Harper, his favorite player, came up to Gavin and introduced himself, and an hour later, up until about 45 minutes to first pitch, Harper was still there talking to Gavin and his family. Kyle Mann, the Nationals' coordinator of community relations, had never seen a player spend so much time with a kid before a game.

On the field, he gave Gavin the hat off his head and signed it for him. Harper asked questions to draw Gavin out. Gavin sat in a folding chair in the Nationals dugout. Harper leaned forward and his elbow on his left knee so his eyes would be at the same level as Gavin’s. Harper traded one of his wristbands for one of Gavin’s neon wristbands. Harper asked Gavin to sign a baseball for him. They hung out for an hour, and then Harper had to go play.

While there are many athletes who give back to their community, who are willing to give their time and energy to those in need, Harper has demonstrated time and time again that as much as he is energized by the game he loves and still awed by the celebrity he has become, he never forgets those who make the difference. I fervently hope that Harper never loses that quality, and hope he serves as much a role model for his fellow athletes as he does countless kids playing baseball all over the world.

Prayers to the Rupp family and to Bryce Harper, thanks.

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