It was the morning after rookie standout Steven Souza Jr. of the Tampa Bay Rays blasted a mammoth home run to centerfield, a shot that proved the difference in a 3-2 victory over the arch-rival New York Yankees. But instead of sleeping in, or resting up for another showdown that night against New York, Souza made powerful contact of another kind.
He swung by All Children’s Hospital on his own, following the lead of teammate Chris Archer. The visit wasn’t tied to a sponsorship arrangement or a special event – only his desire to spend a little time with sick kids in need of a boost.
|Steven Souza and Ben Doane during an April visit.|
Souza spent an hour walking the halls of the hematology-oncology unit and Cardiovascular Intensive Care Unit, popping into rooms where tired or anxious parents sat beside the beds of a child receiving treatment. And with a natural, easy manner that mirrors his playing style, the 26-year-old Rays newcomer made everyone he spoke with feel a little bit better – even those who had no idea who he was before he showed up with a knock on their door.
But there was one patient in particular, an 18-year-old with leukemia, who couldn’t have been happier to see Souza – and Souza couldn’t have been more pleased to see him.
Ben Doane, a senior at Titusville High School, had met Souza and Archer last month when they made a similar unscheduled visit to All Children’s. The ballplayers hit it off immediately with Ben, a pitcher with college baseball aspirations whose dream was interrupted this year when it was discovered that he needed a bone marrow transplant. They proceeded to invite Ben and his family to a Rays game, and each player gave him a gift to buoy his spirits.
When Souza made his visit to the hospital on Thursday, May 14, he asked how Ben was doing – and promptly learned that Ben’s brother, Chris, was in the process of donating marrow for a transplant scheduled later in the day. Souza, who had no idea the procedure was imminent, immediately asked if he could stop by Ben’s room to share a few words of encouragement before the procedure.
Ben wasn’t feeling well, but instantly perked up at the surprise news that Souza wanted to see him. Donning a gown, mask and gloves, Souza stepped inside the room. It was a short meeting, less than three minutes, but the smile on Ben’s face made it clear how much the unplanned visit meant.
They made simple small talk about baseball and a restaurant they’d both been to recently. Ben spoke quietly as Souza kept the patter going, engaging the rest of the family as well. Sensing it was time to leave, he asked for the teen’s cell phone and keyed in his phone number.
“Text me and let me know how it goes. I’m with you bro.”
As he headed down the hall to visit more patients, Souza reflected on why he likes visiting with sick children, something he also did last year in Washington, D.C., after a debut with the Nationals.
“I think we’re so lucky to be able to do what we do,” he says. “Our culture tends to lift up professional athletes. So using that platform to give a boost to kids in need is the best thing you can do. To see Ben smile today – on a day that probably wasn’t going to be easy for him – means the world to me. And it’s the best thing I could do with my time.”