OMAHA, Neb. – This is Elizabeth.
The first thing you probably notice about her is the med cart attached to her side and more than a few tubes disappearing up her shirt.
But spend more than a minute or two with her, and she will distance herself so far from that med cart that one almost forgets about it.
Her fiery hair matches her firecracker personality that saw her mugging with some eye black and a baseball bat. She is laughing so hard that her cheeks begin to hurt as she runs around the atrium of the children’s hospital at the University of Nebraska Medical Center.
That’s the effect that a visit from the Michigan baseball team had on her and on the other kids in her wing of the hospital.
“You can just see it in their faces – they just light up,” said occupational therapist Sarah Kinsella. “It’s really nice to be outside of their rooms and nice to have a break from that feeling of constant medical care. They just get to be kids.”
That was exactly what happened on Wednesday morning. For children who have spent much of their lives in and out of hospitals, they got a taste of the norm – a chance to run around the bases, play a game of catch or hit a few pitches.
And if a Division I baseball coach is waiting at home plate for hugs and high-fives, or if that game of catch is with a catcher who’s been drafted to the MLB, well, it makes it that much more special.
Especially popular was sophomore right-hander Blake Beers, who spent most of the morning teaching kids a pitching windup and playing catch with them. He also spent several minutes sitting down and chatting with one boy, talking about music and sports. After a few minutes of discussion, they decided the boy was a natural shortstop.
“It’s really eye-opening for us,” Beers said. “They’re going through so much, and to see them having so much fun really just puts our problems into perspective.”
Some of the kids in the hospital were too sick to leave their beds and come join the fun downstairs. But the team didn’t want them to miss out, and sent a delegation of players, including senior first-baseman Jimmy Kerr and junior left-hander Tommy Henry – fresh off a 100-pitch shutout of Florida State on Monday – to visit the patients in their rooms.
Their visits were a little quieter, a little more serious than the happy chaos occurring in the atrium. But they were no less impactful on the patients – or the players.
“We’d just have a short conversation with them, just trying to make their day better however we can,” Kerr said. “There was one kid from Kansas who was just super happy, super positive, and he was showing us all the Mexican music that he listens to, recommending us some songs for the locker room, which was just really cool.”
The Wolverines are no stranger to visits like these, though. Every Thursday in the fall, a delegation from the team makes a similar trip to visit patients at the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital in Ann Arbor – freshmen and juniors one week, sophomores and seniors the next.
Giving back to the community, no matter where they are, is as important to this team as timely hitting, or their newly-adopted “free and loose” approach to baseball.
“This was the one thing – we had a list of choices for things we could do while we were here on an off-day, and this was the one we circled right away,” Bakich said. “That’s a no-brainer. We’re coming to the children’s hospital. That’s the only thing we would want to do.
“For any student-athlete, some of these things that seem like a big deal, like a sore ankle, or your Nike gear not fitting quite right, they realize how insignificant it is. Any opportunity that we get to serve a community – these are just foundational parts of our program.”