Children like Thomas Hastings are an incredible gift.
They offer those in their lives the opportunity to give and receive unconditional love.
Thomas is a typical 8-year-old New Englander in many ways. He loves baseball and longs to play for the Red Sox. Thomas, who suffers from Duchenne muscular dystrophy as well as severe scoliosis, loves the Red Sox in much the same way his family and his friends love him.
That would be fully and completely. The Red Sox are his heroes. They can do no wrong, except for perhaps letting Jacob Ellsbury go to the Yankees.
Yes, Abby, [she's Thomas' older sister] he was an idiot.
There is no concern in Thomas' world about Jon Lester's contract extension, or David Ortiz's latest scorekeeper stare. Thomas' offseason wasn't full of conjecture about Jenny Dell. It wasn't dominated by conversations about whether or not the team's long-time TV analyst should retire because his son was facing murder charges.
Thomas' offseason was a wonderful place where fantasy became reality. This baseball fan with muscular dystrophy became a member of the Hartford University Hawks baseball team.
Thomas' love for the Red Sox, as it did for so many of us, grew out of pain. But it was not the manufactured emotional angst that has become the stuff of history and hyperbole. His pain was real and came as the result of multiple surgeries to adjust the metal rods in his back.
These surgeries began at age 3.
"We found the thing that soothed him most while recovering was watching old Red Sox games," his father, Brad, told me this week. "Now when he comes out of surgery, we have his portable DVD player loaded with his favorite game - Game 4 of the 2004 ALCS."
Game 4 seemed like a dream for millions. Thomas will get to realize another dream on Sunday when he throws out the ceremonial first pitch prior to Sunday's Red Sox-Orioles game.
While the Red Sox flirt with last place, Thomas will get his own little piece of a championship.
Not surprisingly, his favorite player on the team Is Big Papi. One of the perks of youth is that you don't have to ponder contract disputes or nonsensical tantrums about scorekeeping when it comes time to pick your favorite player. The big guy with the giant smile and booming home run swing, the guy who hit .688 in the World Series, and got to swear at the bad guys on TV, wins every time.
"Watching Game 4 is how his admiration for Big Papi was cemented," Brad Hastings said. Thomas defends Big Papi during his slumps. He does it from the heart, not out of obligation.
"Thomas is such a dedicated Big Papi fan because Big Papi gives him hope," Brad Hastings said. "Thomas puts up with so much more than other kids his age but Big Papi shows him just about anything is possible. Thomas knows what it is like to feel down and out as if in a slump but in Thomas' eyes, Big Papi always comes through. There is no cure for Thomas' muscular dystrophy but we all keep hope."
Thomas is thrilled about throwing out the first pitch Sunday. He hopes that his hero, Ortiz, will be on the receiving end.
"Sharing that moment with Big Papi would definitely complete his Fenway experience and be a dream come true," his father said.
Like some who throw out the ceremonial first pitch, Thomas is taking his responsibility very seriously. He wasn't sure if his pitch would be good enough for Fenway Park, his dad said. After Wednesday's 16-9 Red Sox loss to the Cubs, it may be that Thomas' pitch is too good for Fenway Park.
"He can't throw as far as other kids his age. It took a couple days but he is definitely excited about it now," Brad Hastings said.
Thomas went to his first game at Fenway at age 3. Like any Red Sox addict, he was instantly hooked.
"If he isn't watching the Sox or listening to the Sox or reading about the Sox, he is pretending to play in Fenway Park as a member of the team (literally for hours a day)," Brad Hastings said. "Thomas is the epitome of a passionate fan. He takes the ups and downs of the team very personally. As you can imagine, he has been pretty moody recently."
Thomas' trip to Fenway came as the result of the work done by Team IMPACT. It connects kids battling life threatening conditions with college athletic programs like Hartford's. Team IMPACT held an auction and one of the items donated by the Red Sox was throwing out the first pitch at Fenway Park. The auction winner gave the item back and Thomas became the logical choice for the honor. Thomas and the director of Team IMPACT, Duke Little, will be guest on NESN's pre-game show Sunday with host Tom Caron.
Thomas can't play with kids his own age and will likely enter the Challenger League next year.
"Thomas still dreams of playing at Fenway although every day he is more and more aware of his body's limitations. No, Thomas' condition has no cure and will slowly rob his body of every bit of muscle," Brad Hastings said of his son.
Hastings and his family will be "soaking up" the experience when Thomas throws out that first pitch on Sunday, even if Ortiz isn't there to catch it.
"His moment at Fenway will still be very special."
For Thomas, his family, and the rest of us.
The OBF column is written by award-winning journalist and Bay State native Bill Speros. Hit him up on his Obnoxious Boston Fan Facebook page, on Twitter @realOBF or at his
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