Wishing for Spring
As the Nationals travel squad forged its way down I-95 south through Florida to Jupiter last Friday to take on the Cardinals, most of the starters stayed back in Viera, working out at Space Coast Stadium. All the familiar faces were there – Ian Desmond, Bryce Harper, Adam LaRoche and Ryan Zimmerman – along with one very new, very fresh one.
To appreciate how fortunate 12-year-old Logan Gear was to join the Nats on the diamond last week, one must first understand how incredibly unlucky he was just a few years ago. At age six, Logan was diagnosed with a Wilms tumor in his kidney, an affliction that affects just 500 children per year in the United States. The cancer metastasized, spreading to his lung. Before he’d lived hardly at all, he was subject to two weeks of invasive radiation, followed by six months of chemotherapy. For parents like Logan’s, who dream of their children growing into high achieving adults, the focus was reduced to mere survival.
Yet, here he was, six years later, taking the field with his big league heroes, thanks to the Make-A-Wish program.
“He’s been playing baseball now real seriously for about four or five years, and he thought that seeing the Nationals would be a great wish,” explained Logan’s dad, J.R. “We were trying to figure out when that could be, and it worked out to be at Spring Training.”
When the family had first arrived in Viera a couple of days prior, Harper came over and gave Logan his batting gloves. While those made for a fantastic souvenir, the experience of a lifetime was only beginning. Friday presented an even more amazing opportunity.
“Friday was incredibly special, him being able to be with the players and nobody else in the stadium,” recalled J.R. of watching his son. “Adam LaRoche is one of his favorite players. He got a couple of throwing tips from Adam, then went out to center field with Ian Desmond to shag some balls.”
LaRoche has plenty of experience guiding a kid on the field in Spring Training, as his son Drake partakes in many of the pregame activities each season. But to be able to do the same for someone like Logan, wide-eyed and in awe of the whole experience, was an entirely different ballgame.
“Drake’s been doing it forever, he really doesn’t know any different,” explained the Nats first baseman. “When he comes out, he’s not in awe, looking around at the guys he’s been watching forever. It’s different bringing a kid out who’s never been on the field, never been around the guys, to come out and not just sit on the sidelines and watch, but actually get out there and be a part of it.”
After his time in the field, Logan got to come in with some of his biggest heroes for a few rounds at the plate.
“When they switched rotations, he came in here to bat with Desmond, LaRoche, and Ryan Zimmerman, and Logan was the fourth,” explained J.R. proudly. “So he worked into the batting cage with them.”
Of course, being the rookie on the field, Logan wasn’t about to be spared any initiation rituals.
“We drilled him,” admitted LaRoche with a wry smile, explaining that the batting practice pitcher had hit Logan, softly but intentionally on the backside, an affront in a game situation, but a true sign of acceptance in the baseball world in batting practice. “We had to find out how tough he was. He handled it good, he stood in there and kept swinging.”’
Logan wore it, as they say, owning the moment. He hung tough, dug in, and lined the next pitch he saw back through the infield. The next day, when the Nationals returned home, he got the chance to deliver the ball to Stephen Strasburg on the mound. For a young Nationals fan who plays shortstop and pitches, could there be anything better?
“Logan’s a man of few words – he’s on the quiet side, where his sister is on the loud side,” explained J.R. “He turned to me after that and he said, “this was really, really cool, dad.”
According to dad, Logan made it out to about six or seven games last season, but keeps track of the Nationals on a daily basis.
“He’s the statistician of the family,” said J.R. of his son. “He knows all the players and all the numbers.”
He starts to recall the particulars of Logan’s big week, and it hits him all at once – the emotion of struggle of watching his son fall ill, only to recover and grow into a happy, healthy kid, gazing out at his favorite team from the warning track just outside the home dugout.
“No kid should ever have to go through that,” said J.R., fighting back tears. “I get emotional, because he went through a lot. But he’s doing great.”
Regardless of how aware Logan was of the severity of his illness, his attitude and perseverance inspired his parents through that troubled time, and left an indelible mark on their appreciation for their son.
“He’s my wife’s and I’s hero,” said J.R. “What else can you say?”