As we sometimes talk about at this blog, sports is a distraction, a way to put the real-world away for a few hours and to have some fun. This is a big help in our everyday lives where stress from work or from family or from anywhere can drive us to insanity. We use the sports world as a nice escape. But some pain is too big to just go away, it will last a lifetime. Still, sports can help for a few hours to brighten a day and provide some temporary relief.
Recently, SB Nation's Detroit Tigers blog, Bless You Boys, found a way to make that happen for a family. The story starts with a man named Mike Gentz. Mike is a long-time Tigers fan, and along the way he had converted his wife into a Tigers fan and raised his sons to be Tigers fans. They were living the American dream with frequent family outings to see Detroit play ball. Mike was very active on Twitter and many in the Detroit Tigers and Bless You Boys communities had interacted with him there. All seemed right with his world.
Then his wife Dawn was diagnosed with melanoma cancer in 2009. Mike relayed his story at Bless You Boys:
Dawn was diagnosed with melanoma in June of 2009 after a mole on her leg grew. After the initial surgeries and treatments, she was declared clean and remained that way for about two years, and she then she started to have abdominal pain.
It was then that the treatments grew more complex, and for a year she lived in pain and discomfort almost every minute of every day. She did so with strength and grace and she never showed her pain. She rarely broke down, and never broke down in front of people. She found no value in grieving over her diagnosis. Negativity didn't cure cancer, so why be negative?
Dawn passed on April 2nd of this year. A small part of me likes to think she waited for that day because it was the usual day-off-after-Opening-Day. I haven't been the same since.
A wife and a mother taken away in the prime of her life. It's devastating even to think about, let alone live through. But that's what Mike had to do, he had to carry on living because he had two young boys to raise.
Mike also didn't realize how many friends he had made through his love of the Tigers. While Mike and his family were grieving, his friends were quietly trying to figure out how to help him out. That's when Bless You Boys entered the picture. Editor Allison Hagen received a request which she explained to me in a recent Q&A.
Mike's friend Tom sent me a DM saying that he and a group of people have been longtime friends with Mike through message boards for the baseball simulation Out Of The Park Baseball. Knowing I'm a contributor at Bless You Boys, he wondered if I could point him in the right direction for some ideas; they had taken up a collection of money when they heard Dawn was terminal and wanted to do something special and baseball related. I happen to be friendly with a person in the Tigers' front office and started from there.
What Allison did was bring it to the Tigers attention, and even though they were slammed preparing for Opening Day, they didn't hesitate to help. Allison again:
The Tigers were very receptive and had a letter of condolence sent to Mike almost immediately, in addition to an invite to have them come to a game and do all the activities mentioned in the story. The team is very familiar with its following on Twitter, and my contact was already vaguely aware of the situation. Everything the Tigers did for Mike and family was free of charge - which I think is a policy throughout MLB.
What they did was invite Mike and his kids to a game, to batting practice, to get autographs, to tour around the stadium; they basically gave him a whole day of VIP treatment. Mike recounts this day and more in this story at Bless You Boys. It's a great read and heart-warming. Since the Tigers took care of everything - the tickets, dinner, a hotel, paraphernalia - Mike's friends were able to just donate the money they had raised to him.
It may have been only a one day respite, but it was one hell of a day for Mike and his kids. Just check out the pictures he posted to see how happy they were on that day.
We're praying for Mike and his family. And we'd like to salute Allison Hagen and Bless You Boys for helping out. We're proud of them as a blog, but we're doubly-proud when we see them doing something like this.