On the seventh floor of All Children’s Hospital, two rooms on separate hallways held a similar story this past week: each connected by baseball and the frustration of boys sidelined from the game they love.
Sitting in a chair connected to an IV machine, 13-year-old Andre James watched television, recovering from a car accident that left him with an injury to his stomach that required surgery. Though he was lucky it wasn’t worse, Andre – a starting shortstop on his travel ball team – was feeling down about being laid up in the hospital while his Iron Pigs squad from Port Charlotte played a big tournament in Georgia.
Not far away, 15-year-old Eric Shrader lay in his bed, getting over surgery to repair a congenital sternum condition but struggling to get over missing the summer season pitching for his team.
And then, several minutes apart, each received the surprise of their lives.
It came in the form of a brief visit from a star player for the Tampa Bay Rays dealing with his own disappointment over a season-ending setback, 24-year-old pitcher Matt Moore.
Moore’s high hopes for the 2014 campaign on the heels of a stellar 17-4 showing last year abruptly ended in April with an injury to his left elbow. It resulted in the operation commonly known as Tommy John surgery and will require a long, grueling road back for Moore to retake the mound sometime in 2015.
He was the perfect person to make a surprise stop – offering perspective, stressing patience and providing words of encouragement to two boys wishing they were back on the diamond.
“Andre, nice to meet you, dude,” said Moore, making the rounds as part of a visit sponsored by Sagicor financial services company, while Rays reliever Brad Boxberger talked to patients on another floor.
Andre looked up in surprise, and his wide eyes conveyed plenty even though he found words hard to come by. He answered with mostly short replies, but fixed a gaze and smile on Moore as the 2013 All-Star carried the conversation with questions and friendly encouragement.
“The good news is you’re still really young and there are a lot more summers to go,” Moore replied when Andre explained he was missing a big tournament. “You look pretty tough – I’m sure you’ll hang in there and this’ll be nothing for you.”
Andre listened intently as Moore switched topics to his own injury. “I got hurt my second game of the year – something in my elbow popped,” he said. “It came out of nowhere and all of a sudden I just felt like something bit my arm. They pretty much had to reconstruct my elbow joint and I’ll be out for a full year. But I’m going to work hard to get back out there, and I know you will, too.”
Moore signed a picture of himself for Andre and posed for some photos – and left him with plenty to tweet his teammates in Georgia about. “It was shocking – I thought, ‘Is that really Matt Moore?’ when he walked in,” the incoming ninth-grader at Sarasota High School said after the visit. “What he said kind of makes me feel better because I know what he’s going through.”
Down another hall, Eric was just as stunned when there was a knock on the door and Moore entered. His parents, Rick and Kandice, were just as excited to see the pitcher as their son – the three used to live in Alabama and watched Moore play for the Rays’ Class AA farm team, the Montgomery Biscuits.
Moore shared his story though Eric knew plenty about it already, including the no-hitter the Rays lefty threw for Montgomery in 2011. “I definitely wish you a speedy recovery – you’re probably a quicker healer than I am,” Moore said with a smile after signing and posing for photos.
“That was awesome,” Eric said after the third-year Rays pitcher left to spread cheer elsewhere on the floor. His mother chimed in, “He was saying, ‘It would be so cool if somebody from the Rays could see me when I was in here.' So this was definitely a memorable day.”
One in which two young ballplayers on the mend got more than they could have imagined.