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Dan Shaughnessy

Give it up for the kids

By Dan Shaughnessy
Globe Columnist / August 28, 2009

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The Red Sox and the Jimmy Fund. They go together.

What more needs to be said? We live in New England, where the Sox sometimes seem like life and death, but this week we are reminded of the higher purpose and the greater good of the ball club’s mission. It’s late August and the Red Sox are on the bubble for a postseason spot, and today is the second and final day of the annual WEEI/NESN Jimmy Fund Radio-Telethon.

Every one of you has a chance to make a difference. Drop a buck or two in the slot next time you walk past a Jimmy Fund receptacle. Better yet, go to Jimmyfundradiotelethon.org or call 877-738-1234 and make a pledge. The event has raised almost $17 million over the last seven years, and this year’s goal is $5 million - an ambitious quest in uncertain times.

Do it in the name of Alexis, Michael, Amy, Kiki, and Patrick.

My daughter, Kate, was diagnosed with leukemia in 1993 and had the good fortune to be treated at Children’s Hospital and the Jimmy Fund Clinic. Ted Williams, the godfather of Jimmy Fund advocacy, called Kate when she was 8 years old and bellowed, “You’re going to be all right, darling. I knew Dr. Farber and he always used to tell me, ‘Ted, we’re gonna find a way to cure those kids!’ You’ll be OK, and someday I’ll come up there and visit you!’’

After two years of treatment, Kate was OK and Ted did come up to visit her, and today she is a high school English teacher and softball coach. When people ask me how she is doing - people who remember the image of a 60-pound cue-ball kid throwing out a first pitch at Fenway - I tell them she is strong enough to beat me up. Everybody loves that.

Kate is strong enough to beat me up because she was one of the lucky ones. Dr. Sidney Farber was right when he told Ted they were going to find a way to cure those kids. But it’s an evolving, ongoing battle - a fight with enormous pain and loss. It’s a battle that won’t be won until all the kids are cured, until all of the children are as lucky as Kate. It’s why today I speak of Alexis, Michael, Amy, Kiki, and Patrick.

You know them. They are the kids who were not as lucky as Kate. They are the sons and daughters of parents who will never be whole again. They are the brave young soldiers who didn’t survive the battle that was forced upon them. They are frozen in time, photographs and memories, forever 8 years old. The children who never got older.

They are the reason we continue to give.

So I remind you that you can call 877-738-1234 or go to www.jimmyfundradiotelethon.org.

Sometimes I think the Jimmy Fund is the reason the Red Sox exist. For more than a century, this beloved ball club has entertained and amused our community like no other institution. The Sox are a way of life. They are global. They give some folks a reason to get up in the morning. When the Sox finally won a World Series in 2004, thousands of fans visited gravesites of loved ones and adorned headstones with mementos of the Miracle Boys of October.

But there is a larger force that keeps a hold on Red Sox Nation: the unique partnership of the ball club and New England’s signature charity.

The Red Sox and the Jimmy Fund are interwoven like stitches on a baseball. The Sox inherited the Jimmy Fund from the Boston Braves when the Braves left town in 1953, and Teddy Ballgame blazed the trail for all who came after him. Ted would go anywhere, do anything for the Jimmy Fund. As long as there were no cameras.

Ted launched the marriage, and Curt Gowdy made the Jimmy Fund a household name. Ken Coleman took over as director, then handed off to Mike Andrews, the rookie second baseman of the 1967 Cardiac Kids. Andrews was part of the most important season in Red Sox history, but he knows that his greatest achievement in life is the work he has done for the kids of the Jimmy Fund.

Jim Lonborg’s wife, Rosie, has been a volunteer at the clinic for decades. Kids undergo procedures in a Carl Yastrzemski Treatment Room. Roger Clemens used to run down Brookline Ave. wearing his Sox uniform to visit kids in the clinic (no mistaking those metal cleats clacking in a hospital corridor). Mo Vaughn and John Valentin were kid champions in their day.

It’s ongoing. Tim Wakefield is today’s Ted Williams. His teammates are all on board. The Yawkey name is all over the clinic.

And then there is Jon Lester, 25, a cancer survivor. Somebody’s child. Strong enough to beat me up.

When Ted Williams came back from Korea in 1953, he delivered a speech at a giant Jimmy Fund gala at the Hotel Statler. Wearing a necktie for one of the few times in his life, Ted told the crowd, “Somehow it strikes me that a dollar tossed into this drive is the whole American way of life in a nutshell. All the bullets and all the bombs that explode all over the world won’t leave the impact, when all is said and done, of a dollar bill dropped into the Jimmy Fund pot by a warm heart and a willing hand.’’

The young Jimmy Fund that night raised $125,000, including $50,000 from the Joseph Kennedy Foundation. The foundation’s gift was presented by 21-year-old Edward Kennedy. Years later, two of Kennedy’s own children were treated for cancer. And survived.

Not all of the kids make it. There is work to be done in the names of Alexis, Michael, Amy, Kiki, and Patrick.

Call 877-738-1234 or visit www.jimmyfundradiotelethon.org.

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