JIMMY FUND AND THE RED SOX: A LIVING LEGACY

By Greg Cameron

All it took was a handshake and a promise for one of New England‟s most storied partnerships to get its start.

That handshake was between the Lou Perini and Tom Yawkey. In March 1953, both men were the owners of the Braves and Red Sox, Boston‟s two baseball franchises.

The promise struck between the two owners forged America‟s longest running relationship between a professional sports team and a charity. Since the day the Braves left town 56 years ago, the Jimmy Fund and the Boston Red Sox teamed up for over half-a-century to put an end to cancer.

Today marks the eighth annual WEEI/NESN Radio-Telethon. Throughout the next two days, many heartbreaking and heartwarming stories will be told about some remarkable experiences with the tireless work at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and the Jimmy Fund.

After what has boiled down to a 56-year marriage between a baseball team and a charity, there is bound to be a story or two woven into the fabric of Red Sox Nation.

WAITING FOR TIM WAKEFIELD

Nine-year-old Jake Maguire, of North Attleboro, waited with bated breath on Tuesday night as he watched a few of his Red Sox heroes take batting practice. His eyes were transfixed at the sight of Red Sox stars Jacoby Ellsbury, Mike Lowell, and David Ortiz.

Jake was at Fenway to meet another of those Red Sox heroes, pitcher Tim Wakefield. Wakefield met with Jake, six-year-old sister Brenna, and his parents Kim and Mark.

Jake has already been through a lot in his nine years. At the age of six, he was first diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (A.L.L.).

For a seven-month stretch, Jake and his family had thought the precocious young boy had beaten the disease. But in March of this year, Jake’s cancer returned.

However, one would find it difficult to see any ill-effects of the disease on Jake‟s bright disposition. Jake eagerly awaited his meeting with the knuckleballing Wakefield on the warm August afternoon.

As excited as Jake was to meet the All-Star pitcher, Wakefield was equally excited. The feeling of genuine excitement was mutual between both major leaguer and little leaguer.

Wakefield knelt down to Jake and Brenna‟s level as the All-Star hurler signed anything and everything the two energetic youngsters put in front of him. Baseballs, jerseys, pictures, and even a Wakefield‟s Warriors t-shirt were emblazoned with the pitcher’s signature.

Wakefield has seen a lot of kids like Jake in his 15-year tenure with the club. The inspiration these kids get is one of the reasons he keeps giving as much as he can to charitable causes.

“I tell people this all the time that I‟m living out a dream that I had as a kid,” Wakefield said. “These kids have dreams too and if we can make their lives a little easier and put a smile on their face or spend five minutes visiting with them, it‟s pretty important.”

Wakefield has been recognized by his teammates for his charitable efforts by being the team’s seemingly perennial nominee for the Roberto Clemente award . The award is given to the Major League player who does the most amount of work in their community and for charitable causes.

“I’ve been fortunate to wear a uniform for as long as I have and playing a sport that I have since I was a little kid,” Wakefield said. “I feel it’s my responsibility to help these kids fulfill their dreams and have some fun while they’re doing it.”

To kids like Jake Maguire, it‟s not about Wakefield‟s wins, losses, or accolades. To Jake, the fact that Tim Wakefield took time out of his busy Major League schedule to meet with him was more than enough to make a great memory.

TO DREAM THE IMPOSSIBLE DREAM

Red Sox fans have been invoking the theme song from 1965 Broadway play, Man of La Mancha for decades now, including what was seemingly the most impossible of baseball dreams, an unthinkable race to the American League pennant in 1967.

One of the key contributors to that team was second baseman Mike Andrews. That impossible dream season was Andrews’ rookie year.

That 1967 Red Sox squad that featured Andrews also donated a full World Series share to the Jimmy Fund. According to Andrews, that decision, which was team captain Carl Yastrzemski’s idea, was an easy one to make.

“We were having our meeting and it was Carl Yastrzemski who said “I think we ought to give a share to the Jimmy Fund in honor of the Yawkeys,” Andrews said. “There wasn’t even a discussion, everyone agreed.”

Very similar the longevity that the Red Sox-Jimmy Fund partnership has experienced, that decision by the 1967 club is unique in its own right. According to Red Sox Vice President and team historian Dick Bresciani, that decision is believed to be the only time a team has given a full World Series share to a charity in the history of the sport.

Over the span of the last three decades, Andrews has been a cornerstone in the Greater Boston community in a different capacity, as the Jimmy Fund’s Executive Director. He has seen the impact the charity has as both a Red Sox player and in his current job.

“A lot of times players have come here in the middle of a slump of some sort and they put a lot of pressure on themselves,” Andrews said. “When they leave here, the pressure’s off, because they realize that what they’re going through is nothing compared to what these kids and adults are going through.”

Andrews first encountered the Jimmy Fund as a member of the Red Sox during his rookie season 42 years ago. He met with a young Dana-Farber patient in a meeting set up by then-Jimmy Fund chairman Bill Koster.

Andrews retired from professional baseball in 1973 and began working for the Jimmy Fund as a volunteer for former Red Sox play-by-play man Ken Coleman, who had been appointed executive director of the charity.

According to figures, the Red Sox have contributed $17.1 million to the Jimmy Fund since 2002 through the WEEI/NESN Radio-Telethon alone. This year’s radio-telethon is aiming to raise five million dollars to benefit the Jimmy Fund and the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.

DANA-FARBER SUCCESS STORIES

The majority opinion on cancer is that the disease is far from beneficial. But for Red Sox radio broadcaster Uri Berenguer, his grueling 16-year battle with the disease gave the team‟s Spanish-language radio voice a new perspective on life.

“Cancer has been somewhat of a blessing,” Berenguer said. “People always ask me how I can say something like that, and it sounds strange to them.”

As a little boy in Panama, stricken with histocytosis, a rare bone cancer, Berenguer was in and out of hospitals for as long as he can remember. But, Berenguer and his mother left everything and everyone in their native country in search for a cure.

“I knew I was leaving my country and my family, but I had my mom with me,” Berenguer said. “As a little boy and when mom is by your side you think you‟re going to be okay.”

Berenguer arrived in Boston to undergo treatment at Dana-Farber in 1986. At the renowned cancer treatment center, Berenguer was under the care of the Jimmy Fund staff and his doctor,

Lindsay Frazier, a woman he considers to be like a second mother to him. “To me, it’s amazing how they can dedicate all of their strength and effort not only to treating you but to make you smile which is absolutely a testament to how wonderful they are,” Berenguer said of the Dana-Farber staff. “I don’t know what the process of hiring is at the Jimmy Fund, but they do an amazing job.”

As a Dana-Farber patient, Berenguer was fortunate enough to meet some Red Sox players and personalities. When he was 11 years old, Berenguer met both then-second baseman Luis Alicea and longtime Red Sox radio voice Joe Castiglione.

That visit sparked a friendship between Berenguer and Castiglione that continues to this day. In the beginning of that friendship, Berenguer helped Castiglione prepare for radio broadcasts when he was just a teenager.

“Within weeks or even days, he called me and brought to the ballpark,” Berenguer said. “He brought me to the world of the Red Sox and ever since I have been hooked on what he does.”

Berenguer‟s story of a successful battle against cancer is similar to Boston’s Dan Pardi. Pardi first stepped foot into the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute fourteen years ago at the age of seven. He was treated for A.L.L., the same form of cancer that young Jake Maguire is fighting today.

When Pardi first stepped foot into the Dana-Farber Cancer institute, he saw many kids at hospital. That sight gave Dan the thought that having cancer was just a normal kid thing.

“I saw a bunch of kids there so I thought that it was a normal thing that every kid at that age goes into the hospital at this point,” recalled Pardi. “I didn’t know how severe my treatment was going to be, but when you go to the Dana-Farber it‟s almost like it’s a normal thing.”

Pardi was able to meet quite a few Red Sox players during his time at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. Some of the players he was able to meet included Mo Vaughn, John Valentin, and Jose Canseco.

An avid baseball fan, even at his young age, Pardi needed a diversion from what he was going through. He found that diversion when these men who were on his beloved baseball cards came to life and visited him.

“As simple as a Red Sox player coming over, shaking your hand and signing a few autographs, it may not be much to him,” Pardi said. “But to a kid like me, it was absolutely amazing and it just filled everyone‟s hearts with joy.”

Much like his baseball heroes, Pardi had his own baseball card made. The card‟s photo is of Pardi hitting during Jimmy Fund Fantasy Day at Fenway Park.

“It was kind of interesting to see me on a baseball card,” Pardi said. “You see all of your favorite players on them, and then you see yourself on one, it was kind of a neat thing to have kicking around.”

Pardi has been in remission for over ten years now, and is living the life of a normal 21-year-old. He is going into his senior year at Westfield State College and plans to graduate with a degree in Business.

A PARTNERSHIP’S LASTING LEGACY

For 56 years the Jimmy Fund and the Red Sox have been battling together against cancer. The bond between the two has raised millions of dollars towards fighting a disease while also giving patients a diversion from the harsh effects of treatment.

As the doctors and nurses at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute have been learning of new cures treatments, Red Sox Nation has been learning the names and faces of the children and adults benefiting from a dedicated Jimmy Fund team. From young Jake Maguire who‟s valiantly fighting this disease to Executive Director Mike Andrews and Red Sox pitcher Tim Wakefield who are doing their part to fundraise in hopes that one day he can live cancer-free like Uri Berenguer and Dan Pardi, it’s an all-around team effort.

In effect, Red Sox fans have learned a valuable life lesson throughout these 162-game seasons. What exactly is that lesson?

Always keep the promises you make.

This article originally appeared on WEEI.com on 08/26/2009.

2002 Massachusetts State Geography Also-Ran, Current Marketing Content Guy, former writer from lots of different places.