Like many New Englanders, Fernando Morales can’t wait for Opening Day and the start of the baseball season. And, even if his favorite Boston Red Sox aren’t doing well, this 18-year-old high school senior from Norwood, Mass., says he’ll never waver in his devotion.
He has good reason for his loyalty. As a patient at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute’s Jimmy Fund Clinic since April 2011, Morales has endured chemotherapy, shots, hair loss, and more for treatment of Ewing sarcoma, a tumor of the bone and soft tissue. He’s had to quit playing soccer and running track, but he’s still getting his baseball fix thanks to the relationship between the Red Sox and the Jimmy Fund of Dana-Farber.
For 60 years the Jimmy Fund has been an official charity of the Red Sox, with the team contributing millions of dollars to cancer research and treatment. And equally important, lifting the spirits of cancer patients. Morales and other pediatric patients get the chance to meet ballplayers like David Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia, both at Dana-Farber and at the team’s Fenway Park home less than a mile away.
Morales even had the chance to travel with his fellow teen patients to Red Sox spring training games in Florida and regular-season games in Pittsburgh. In addition to high-fiving and chatting with players, the kids bond with each other on these trips – trading war stories about their treatment.
“I learned to love the Red Sox watching games with my dad while he was cooking, but now I’ve seen them as more than ballplayers,” says Morales, who covers his bald head with a Red Sox cap whenever possible. “I can never really get down on them because they’ve done so much for us.”
Morales is particularly inspired by Boston pitcher Jon Lester, who emerged as the team’s ace shortly after treatment for large cell lymphoma, a cancer of the immune system. And as Lester and the rest of the Sox gear up for their Fenway opening on Monday, adult leukemia patient Bill Monbouquette – who, like Lester, once threw a no-hitter as a Red Sox pitcher – will be keeping tabs on them just like Morales.
“I know how much the Red Sox mean to these kids,” says Monbouquette, 76, a Medford, Mass., native who used to visit the Jimmy Fund Clinic with teammates back in the 1960s. “Back when I played, if a guy had a couple hitless games, I’d grab him and take him up to Dana-Farber so he could put things in perspective. Far fewer kids survived back then, but they have always done great work there.”
Monbouquette will be in Boston for the home opener on Monday, and then back at Dana-Farber for a checkup a week later.
“I’ll be talking baseball with my doctors,” Monbouquette jokes. “They are huge fans; one of them even watched my no-hitter as a little kid.”