Jose Mayorga knew he was only a few hours away from surgery for his cancer — his second recurrence of the disease. The City of Hope patient could not have imagined, though, that a visit from some well-known guests would be part of his preoperative routine.
“Hi Jose — do you like baseball?” asked Los Angeles Dodgers third-baseman Nomar Garciaparra in Spanish.
The 27-year-old Mayorga nodded from his hospital bed, as his wife, Alma, confirmed that the Dodgers are his favorite team. Dodgers owner Frank McCourt needed to hear no more than that.
“I’d like to invite you, when it’s appropriate, to come to Dodger Stadium to see a game,” McCourt said. Count the Mayorgas as another family cheered on in their fight against cancer.
The Dodgers visit to City of Hope Helford Clinical Research Hospital on Feb. 6 was part of the baseball team’s efforts for ThinkCure. A nonprofit charitable organization dedicated to raising funds for critical cancer research at City of Hope and Childrens Hospital Los Angeles, ThinkCure ultimately aims to find a cure for cancer. It was launched in summer 2007 as the Dodgers’ official charity.
The Wednesday event was the team’s first visit to City of Hope. Seven current and former Dodgers players stepped off the Dodgers bus in front of Helford Hospital, where they joined McCourt and other Dodgers staff as well as City of Hope leaders. Besides Garciaparra, current players included Andre Ethier, Hiroki Kuroda, James Loney and Brad Penny. Dodgers representatives included former players Bobby Castillo, Eric Karros and Ken Landreaux, as well as former manager Tommy Lasorda and broadcaster Pepe Yñiguez. Numerous news outlets covered the event.
“What we are doing here today is personal in one way or another because cancer has touched every one of us,” McCourt said.
Stephen J. Forman, M.D., the Francis and Kathleen McNamara Distinguished Chair in Hematology and Hematopoietic Cell Transplantation, told the intently listening players about City of Hope’s mission and focus on developing new therapies. “Having partners like you means so much to all of us,” Forman said.
Players visited children in the pediatric unit, as well as adult patients in the bone marrow transplant unit. Not every patient was a Dodger fan at the start, though.
“Here’s a Dodgers hat,” Garciaparra said, handing a small cap to Jael Ulloa, 3. Ulloa refused to put it on; he was already wearing another major league team’s cap turned backwards.
But within a few minutes, as Garciaparra and Loney talked to Jael and slapped some “low fives” with him, the little boy had put his new Dodger-blue cap on and managed a shy smile. “We converted him,” laughed Castillo.
The visit was part of the Dodgers’ annual winter caravan, a series of community events that precede the team’s departure for spring training in Florida. Several other current and former players and key officials had visited patients at City of Hope’s ThinkCure partner, Childrens Hospital Los Angeles, a day earlier.
ThinkCure is following in the footsteps of The Jimmy Fund, a similar partnership between a beloved sports franchise, the Boston Red Sox, and those dedicated to finding a cure for cancer. The Jimmy Fund is one of the most enduring and successful charities of its kind, and the McCourt family has been associated with The Jimmy Fund since its inception.
During its first season, ThinkCure was supported through fundraising at Dodgers games, as well as publicity on television and radio broadcasts. Major League Baseball gave $100,000 as an initial contribution to ThinkCure, and KCAL 9, the Dodgers’ Los Angeles broadcast television partner, has committed an unprecedented amount of airtime and other key resources to the effort. USC Athletics also committed to a series of radio, Internet and video-board messages during the 2007-08 athletic season.
Frank and Jamie McCourt have pledged to match donations, up to a total of $1 million.
More fundraising is to come. As part of the celebration of their 50th anniversary in Southern California, the Dodgers will play an exhibition game at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum against the Boston Red Sox on March 29 — and the game’s proceeds will benefit ThinkCure. The more than 90,000 tickets for the game were sold out within an hour of going on sale.
More information about ThinkCure is available at www.thinkcure.org.