Vaughn, In Ruthian Style, Hits Home Run For Sick Boy
ANAHEIM, Calif. - In the movies, Babe Ruth promised to hit a World Series home run for a disabled little boy and Lou Gehrig said he would hit two. In reality, it never quite happened that way.
What Boston's Mo Vaughn did Saturday night was very real, and also very special.
Vaughn promised he would hit a home run for 11-year-old Jason Leader. In the seventh inning, Vaughn kept his promise.
Jason is a cancer patient at Children's Hospital in Boston and was celebrating his birthday.
"I hope it gave him just a little more strength to push on, to keep going," Vaughn said yesterday before Boston wrapped up its series against California, losing 2-1. "I wanted to try to do what I can."
On a 3-1 pitch from Ken Patterson, Vaughn sent the ball over the fence in right-center field for his third homer of the season.
It was like a scene out of Hollywood. In the 1942 film "The Pride of the Yankees," Ruth, playing himself, promises little Billy that he'd hit a homer. But Gehrig, portrayed by actor Gary Cooper, said he'd hit two.
"Could you hit a home run for me this afternoon?" the boy in the movie asked Gehrig.
"Well, that's a pretty tall order," Gehrig responds. "OK."
"Could you knock two homers?" Billy says.
"Two homers? In the World Series?" the Yankees first baseman said.
"But Mr. Gehrig, you said you could do anything if you try hard enough. That's what you said."
"Yeah, OK. I'll hit two home runs for you if you hit one for me."
"You've got to promise me that one of these days you're going to get out of this bed and go home on your own power. If you want to do something hard enough, you can do it. We can both do it. Can't we?"
Ruth hit his homer against St. Louis, and Gehrig got two. But this was Hollywood taking some liberties with history.
"I told Jason I'd try to hit a homer for him, and it worked out," said Vaughn, sincerely touched by the event. "It's a shame for someone so young to suffer and go through all that."
Vaughn's home run brought the Red Sox within 5-4 of the Angels, who eventually pulled away to an 8-5 victory. But he shrugged that off compared to the real pain he had been asked to share a few hours earlier.
Vaughn has never met Jason, but didn't hesitate when asked to pick up the phone by Jeff Hubbard, a representative of the Jimmy Fund, the Red Sox's team charity for more than four decades. The Jimmy Fund aids the Children's Cancer Research Center at the Dana Farber Clinic, located within a mile of Fenway Park.
"Jeff's father was my athletic director at Trinity Pawling (N.Y.) Prep School, and he asked me to call Jason on his birthday, to wish him a happy birthday," Vaughn said.
"I knew he was a very sick kid. I expected him to be down, but he was so positive. Here I was, 0 for 6 before the game and feeling bad about it, and he's trying to cheer me up. It makes you think about yourself."
Vaughn, a 25-year-old bachelor, had no difficulty relating to Jason's plight. Nor with relating that to the privileges often abused by his celebrated peers.
"Guys today . . . athletes like myself . . . have some nerve getting a bad attitude, being angry about this or that," Vaughn said. "Here's an 11-year-old kid with cancer, his life on the line.
"And you talk to him, and he's in great spirits and excited just to hear your voice. You've got to realize what you are and how you got there. You've got to evaluate yourself and realize how lucky you are.
"God, we're talking about a kid's life here."
Jason, of Albany, N.Y., was diagnosed with cancer (neuroblastoma) about three years ago.
Vaughn isn't intimate with details of Jason's condition, but once Saturday night's game ended, he prayed that he had done his small part to brighten the prognosis.
"In the heat of the game, you don't remember what you'd said or realize what you'd done," Vaughn said.
"The game takes over. But I'm glad I said it, and it was nice that that's what happened."
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