OMAHA, Neb, - Standing around the batting cage on Monday at Creighton University, Michael Roth looked over at Chad Holbrook and asked, ‘We’re going to the Children’s Hospital again, right?’
Shortstop Peter Mooney was on SportsCenter's Top 10 on Wednesday but getting a signed baseball was the highlight for this youngster.
The answer was a definite yes but Holbrook, like he may answer to one of his two young sons trying to provide incentive to be on their best behavior, looked at Roth and said, ‘If you guys win tomorrow.’
‘Done,’ replied Roth.
The next day, the Gamecocks (52-14) took the field at TD Ameritrade Park Omaha and knocked off Virginia 7-1 cementing a spot in the winners’ bracket and also guaranteeing a trip to the Children’s Hospital and Medical Center of Omaha.
The entire traveling party – including players, coaches, announce crew, managers, and more – scattered about on three floors to visit dozens of children from infants to teenagers. The hospital sees about 250,000 children each year and, as a part of their mission statement, says no child in need of medical care will be turned away because of inability to pay.
“All week we’re worried about us winning and then you come here, and none of that is on your mind,” senior Robert Beary said. “You come here and enjoy spending time with kids who are battling for their lives. We battle on the field but in the end, it’s not our lives. For them, it is. Visiting here is a way to step back and admire something besides baseball while we’re out here.”
The Gamecocks entered the hospital donning their practice gear and armed with baseballs to sign. They went around in small groups to visit with kids who were laying in their hospital beds and family members who were thrilled to see new faces.
“They don’t really get to enjoy a lot with all that they have going on in their lives right now,” freshman Erik Payne said. “When you see them get excited, you know it’s a highlight of their week and it makes you feel good.”
Each year that the Gamecocks have made it to the College World Series, they’ve taken some time to visit the children’s hospital. In 2003, the team met Charlie Peters, then a six-year old child with cancer. He stayed in touch with the team and visited the team hotel in 2004.
Senior John Taylor passes off a signed baseball to a patient at the Children's Hospital and Medical Center of Omaha.
Now 13 years old, Peters was in the dugout as a bat boy for Tuesday night’s victory over the Cavaliers and he was back with the team for Wednesday’s visit to the hospital.
Peters visited with some of the same doctors and nurses who treated him but he also went from room to room visiting different kids who suffered from similar afflictions.
“It feels great to be able to come out here and visit with these kids,” Payne said. “It puts everything into perspective and it feels great to be able to give back. They really look like they appreciate you and it feels really good.”
Payne spoke about a girl named Vanessa, who was about three or four years old who just woke up from surgery and how special it was to meet her and her family.
After going from room to room, the players, coaches, and staff all gathered in the lobby area. There were kids running everywhere going up to anyone who looked like they wanted to visit.
All of the players responded whether it was by tossing a baseball, giving out hugs and high fives, or just sitting there having a conversation.
Dante Rosenberg served as a catcher for a young lad who had no idea where the ball was going. DeSean Anderson sat on the ground and rolled a baseball back and forth. Roth was all smiles as a young girl clung to his arm and looked up at the Friday night starter like he had hung the moon.
It was special for the kids but it was special for the players.
“They’re all special,” Beary said. “Some will smile at you, some will wave or give you a high five. Some of them just want to sleep and you can’t blame them. They’re all special to me and I really enjoyed having this opportunity to come out here.”