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And emotional moment on the mound
Coach Collin Cossette stood along the third base line Monday evening as his Warwick Cardinals 10 and under team played against Pequea Valley. As coaches do, Cossette called out instructions to his young players during their 11-1 five inning win, but the most important lesson came from the ceremonial first pitch they granted to an opposing player.
That player, 10-year-old Damien Smucker of Pequea Valley, has brain cancer.
“We wanted to give them a life lesson that there is more to life than baseball,” said Coach.
“It was five weeks ago (from Sunday) that we found out,” said Damien’s father John. “He got sick and vomited twice that morning. He had also been complaining about headaches.”
He thought Damien suffered from Lyme’s disease because several family members, including John, had been stricken with it recently. He and his wife Suz took Damien to LGH on May 4 where a CT scan revealed a massive brain tumor.
“We found out at 4:30 and by 6:30, we were at Hershey Medical Center.”
Damien underwent surgery on Monday, May 5 to remove a softball size tumor. Eighteen hours later, he endured a second surgery to take out a second tumor the size of a golf ball.
He spent the next 10 days in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit until he was medically stable. The surgeries have left Damien in a wheelchair with considerable weakness on his right side and a severely limited vocabulary of 15 words.
“His mind is clear and he can follow you when you speak (to him), but he has trouble speaking,” said John.
Damien’s battle has only passed through the first inning as he faces rounds of chemotherapy along with physical therapy. He will undergo five days of chemo for six weeks followed by six weeks off. Should all go well, Damien will then have chemo treatments without radiation therapy from September to February.
Equally daunting, John and Suz face the long commutes to Hershey as well as the financial and emotional burdens.
“We were made aware of the situation about three weeks ago when some of their parents told us,” recalled Cossette. “We wanted to help share in the expenses.”
Emails began circulating among the parents and they quickly decided to start a collection for the Smuckers. They then reached out to them through PV’s coach Steve Temple to invite them to Monday’s game.
Cossette went to Hershey to meet Damien and his parents. He was amazed by the Smuckers’ mood.
“They had no excuses and no ‘why me’ attitude,” he recalled.
On Monday, Damien was taken to the field in wheelchair to the pitcher’s rubber. A natural righty, Damien made the throw left handed and tossed the ball half way to home plate. While he was out there, the players presented him with a Josh Hamilton shirt (his favorite player) and vouchers for Phillies tickets (his favorite team).
John said Damien enjoyed the attention.
“He nearly had tears in eyes,” recalled his father.
“It’s obvious to me these kids are genuinely concerned for Damien’s well-being,” observed the coach. “For weeks, the kids have asked about him.”
That concern did not abate after the first pitch. Damien’s family stayed to watch and in between the top and bottom of the third, the Cardinals all gathered in a circle and did a shout of “1,2,3, DAMIEN!”
After the game, the players performed the handshake ritual with their opponents and then swung around the backstop to shake hands with him.
“It is amazing what they have been doing,” said John. “They made this day special.”
As for Damien’s outlook, his father says, “The doctors are hopeful for his recovery, but you never know with cancer. He is ahead of what the doctors (expected) and he is improving in little ways.
“We’re just glad he’s here, and God’s doing his work.”
John Crawford is a freelance feature reporter for the Record Express.