Brady’s Bats: How a 5-year-old cancer patient has inspired a team and altered Red Sox’ collective wardrobe
|08.29.13 at 1:18 am ET|
Pregame on-field activity at Fenway Park didn’t seem like anything out of the ordinary Wednesday, with Red Sox and Orioles players milling about, biding their time until it was their turn to take grounders or batting practice. Pitchers shagged flies in the outfield, just as they always do, and fans slowly but surely filled the stands once the gates opened, just as they always do. A few particularly eager ones hung out by the dugouts in search of autographs.
But amidst the organized chaos was one young athlete who stole the show, at least for a couple of minutes: 5-year-old Brady Wein.
Brady created a special version of batting practice by the Red Sox dugout, handling pitch after pitch from his momentary personal Wiffeball hurler, Jonny Gomes, and whizzing line drives right by — and sometimes over — the Red Sox outfielder. When Gomes departed for his own round of BP, Brady settled for pitching to himself and wowing a group of about 25 onlookers by spraying more liners over their heads and into nearby seats.
Never far from the action, Brady’s parents, Mike and Rachel Wein, looked on with smiles. Life has been downright daunting for the family the last half-decade, but on a picture-perfect August evening it was hard not think about what almost never was.
Brady, a curly haired, brown-eyed boy as chipper as could be once the grogginess of his mid-day nap wore off, has leukemia.
Since he was diagnosed with a rare form of the blood cell-based cancer three months after his birth, Brady has undergone about a dozen and a half rounds of chemotherapy and two bone marrow transplants, as well as an experimental treatment at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City. Doctors never expected him to make it to his second birthday.
There he was, though, 39 months and 27 days later, with a big smile on his face and taking swings at Fenway Park.
“He loves it,” Rachel said. “He puts in a lot of hours of practice.”
When he’s not suiting up in his baggy baseball pants, Gomes can regularly be seen donning mesh gym shorts designed like the American flag, the top half featuring a blue background with white stars, the bottom half red and white stripes.
But where did they come from? None other than Mike Wein, Brady’s father.
The Weins met Gomes shortly before his 2012 spring training with the Athletics through a relative who works at Athletes’ Performance Institute in Phoenix, an elite training center where Gomes works out in the offseason. Gomes and Brady quickly took a liking to each other.
Gomes started wearing a Livestrong-style bracelet that reads, “B is 4 Brady … B Strong” last season, and this year he added the patriotic shorts to his wardrobe. They quickly caught the attention of his teammates.
“The shorts are cool as hell,” Gomes said. “[Mike’s] cool, Brady’s cool, I don’t think they’d make ugly shorts. But if they were, I’d still wear them. I’m not wearing because they’re cool, it just helps that they are. I’m wearing them to represent.”
This week — just in time for WEEI’s two-day Jimmy Fund Radio-Telethon — Gomes’ shipment of shorts for all of his teammates came in. His teammates’ comments spurred Gomes to call Mike several weeks ago to say he needed a large order.
“Some people are just special,” Mike said. “Jonny Gomes is special.”
Gomes would likely downplay that compliment, but he does take seriously his role as a professional athlete when it comes to making the world around him a better place. He does not overlook the social responsibility that comes along with getting a spotlight due solely to what he does for a living.
“Obviously this is a big time for the Jimmy Fund,” Gomes said, referring to the annual fundraising campaign that took place on Tuesday and Wednesday. “There’s just a lot more than performing between the lines and what’s one your resume, characteristics to be a professional athlete. It’s not us really carrying the load for the Jimmy Fund. It’s stayed in the community, raising all this money.”
Although the shorts are meant as a tribute to Brady, Mike, a Framingham native, has included a Boston Strong theme in the latest version. Blue-and-yellow Boston Marathon ribbons streak down the sides, while “4/15/13,” the date of the bombing, and “Family 264,” representing the number of people injured, are on the back.
On the front of the left leg is a logo for Brady’s Bunch, an elite club lacrosse team based out of Arizona that Mike Wein runs.
‘WE’RE NOT A TEAM — WE’RE A FAMILY’
Wein started Brady’s Bunch when his son got sick, and the club is much like its namesake — anything but ordinary.
It does not have a set roster, instead changing players every time it participates in select U19 tournaments all over the country. Mike researches and recruits players from all over, and so far youngsters from 21 states plus Canada have taken the field for Brady’s Bunch. Word of mouth in the lacrosse community is strong enough that prospective players often contact Mike looking to participate.
A typical weekend for the team looks something like this: The players meet — for the very first time, in many cases — in the lobby of the hotel they’re staying at that weekend. Without practicing together, they take to the field the following day. Interspersed throughout their handful of contests is what is arguably the most rewarding part, the heartfelt conversations in which anyone — the players, Mike, the other coaches — pour their hearts out about their own lives.
“We’re not a team — we’re a family,” Mike said. “[Brady’s Bunch] is a different concept because to be competitive in sports you usually need to practice, especially in sports like lacrosse where you have plays where teams will practice hours and hours on set plays.
“But like I tell the kids, when you put a Brady’s Bunch uniform on, you just seem to run a little bit faster, you just seem to work a little bit faster. That ball that might hit the post might go in with the luck that Brady’s Bunch Nation brings.”
Gomes’ relationship with the family has endured. When Gomes traded in his Oakland uniform from a year ago to sign with the Red Sox in the offseason, the Weins changed their allegiance as well. Brady has even developed the habit of running around the house shouting, “I’m Jonny Gomes! I’m Jonny Gomes!” when his idol is set to come to the plate.
So it was no surprise, then, that Gomes was the first player to talk to Brady and his parents when they made their way down to the field Wednesday evening. Dustin Pedroia soon followed, as did Mike Napoli.
“I guess they’re my guests since I’m leaving them passes,” Gomes said. “But they’re everyone’s guests.”
It’s those small gestures, Brady’s parents agree, that “mean everything.”
“Even if the Kansas City Royals wore our stuff, I’d be honored,” Mike said, adding that it’s particularly meaningful having the team he grew up following take part. “The Red Sox are special to me and my family, from here on out. They’ve always been a team that I root for, but now I root for them because they’re friends. I’m not watching the game, I’m watching our friends play.”
Rachel is originally from Illinois, so she doesn’t quite share that perspective. But she agreed with the sentiment nonetheless.
“It might [seem like] a little thing, but it’s so big,” Rachel said. “Not only are they saying hi to Brady, but they have a mindset that they’re trying to bring awareness to cancer and pediatric cancer. They understand what their role is and how big of a part they can play in someone’s life and what a big difference they can make.”
Brady’s long-term prognosis is cloudy. Considering the entirely unexpected success treatment has resulted in so far, however, Rachel remains cautiously optimistic, opting to take things one day at a time — just the way she has been “trained.”
“Every day is a gift,” Rachel said. “He’s doing great right now. He’s been doing really good for a long time, so we just have to pray. … Every day is unreal. His birthdays are really special.”
Last week, the family relocated from Arizona to Framingham, partly to be with family and partly to lessen the travel load for Brady’s treatments in New York every eight weeks. He will also start getting regular checkups at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston.
Brady is a tad under three feet tall, meaning that although he has been pushing for the next-size-up car seat of late, he often finds himself eye-to-eye with 2-year-olds. But that doesn’t bother him — it’s just a part of his world. It’s all he’s ever known, these surgeries and radiation treatments and trips to New York.
And he is far from alone. There are more than 13,000 cases of pediatric cancer in the United States each year, according to the American Childhood Cancer Organization, a fact that hits home with Rachel, who is surprised at how often she encounters people shocked that Brady, as young as he is, is a cancer patient.
“If we don’t talk about it,” Rachel said of pediatric cancer, “we’re never going to get anywhere with it.”
Too often, there aren’t answers. Brady is one of those cases.
His form of the disease, acute myeloid leukemia, usually is found in older adults. That he developed it at all, particularly at such a young age, is a bit of a wild card.
“He’s a perfect example,” Rachel said. “Brady was the first one to ever take his medicine that he’s actually still on today. When we first gave it to him, he was on such a high dose, within a couple of months his lungs were so damaged he was on full oxygen at the time.
“And that’s a scary thing. You’re just throwing darts in the dark and you don’t have a choice. What are you going to do? That’s the scary thing. Because there’s not money to do research, your babies are writing the books.”
The Weins — not to mention Gomes, Brady’s Bunch and everyone else who has met him — are hoping this book has a happy ending.
“He’s just shocking the world,” Mike said. “Miracle babies are hard to have, but we got one.”
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