Cory Burke’s long, scary road took a happy detour Saturday night.
Cory, 13, a Kickemuit Middle School student and standout youth baseball player who battled cancer for a year before being declared healthy about a month ago, spent the night at Fenway Park courtesy of the Boston Red Sox. He and his teammates on the King Philip Little League’s Major Division All Star team got a chance to tour the park, go behind the scenes and even walk out to the Green Monster, the most famous left field wall in baseball.
The fact that Cory and at least two of his coaches are Yankees fans didn’t matter — “This is awesome,” he said as he and his buddies were called out just before the first pitch at 7:10 p.m.
The trip was only the latest in a string of extraordinary events that surrounded Cory and his team this summer. After he was diagnosed last fall with Ewing’s Sarcoma, a form of bone cancer, Cory had to leave his teams, both the Kickemuit Wildcats and King Philip, to concentrate on his treatment. But even as he underwent chemotherapy and other treatment in Boston, he cheered on his buddies from the sidelines. It did the trick as both teams went on to win big this summer. In June, the Wildcats won the state Middle School championship for the first time in 18 years, and a month or so later the King Philip All Stars won the State District 2 championship before falling in the state finals. It was King Philip’s first District 2 title in 29 years.
“What an amazing summer,” said the league’s Joe Simeone, who went along Saturday night even though he, like Cory, is a staunch Yankees fan.
Saturday night’s trip to Fenway was a long time coming. Cory had already visited Fenway twice this year at the invitation of the Jimmy Fund, throwing out the first pitch one night and serving as a bat boy another. He had a chance to go two other times, but turned both down as they conflicted with his King Philip team’s playoff games. Turning down those two were tough, he said, as the Sox were playing the Yankees.
Several teams from across New England were invited to Saturday’s game, but it was an invite only event. King Philip got in after Sox officials asked him during his last visit whether he was on a baseball team. He told them about his Little League team, and the offer was extended.
The team jumped at the chance. About a dozen players, plus various coaches and parents, met locally prior to the game and drove up in two vans. They got to the park around 5:30, were ushered into the Champions’ Club, a waiting room and reception area behind right field, and mugged for cameras and horsed around for about half an hour before being led onto the field. For some, it was their first trip to Fenway.
“I was thinking about wearing a little Yankees pin,” joked Mr. Simeone as they waited to walk out onto the field. “But then I said ‘Naah.'”
As they waited, Cory’s father Jerry paced excitedly, occasionally glancing over at his son.
Cory’s doing well, he said. He’s working to get strength back in his throwing arm, and he’s growing back all his hair. A devout Red Sox fan — Cory got his love of the Yankees from his grandfather, he said — Mr. Burke has been blown away by the support Cory’s received over the year. And he’s proud of his son for being as strong as he’s been.
“It’s just been amazing,” he said. “It was pretty tough.”
Even with a clean bill of health, Cory is not done with treatment. He has to go to Boston every three months for full body scans, and there’s much physical therapy ahead of him. But he’s happy and healthy, and optimistic. Cory Santerre, his coach, said that optimism extends to the team. The kids had a great summer, learned a lot about life and sacrifice and teamwork, and will remember 2013 for years.
Feet away, Cory and friends were goofing around, laughing and shoving and being kids. There was no thought of cancer or hospitals or any of that stuff, as the roar of 37,569 baseball fans — a sellout — filled the park.