The Littlest Teammate
At the start of a new season, many teams talk about putting the previous year behind them. The Tufts University baseball team isn’t doing that this spring.
Last season, Coach John Casey’s Jumbos had experiences that they will never forget. The team smashed the school record for victories, with 34, won the New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC) title and earned the number one seed in the NCAA New England Regional Tournament. They also came together in their support of Adrian Misic, a young boy with brain cancer whom the team adopted as part of the Friends of Jaclyn Foundation.
Adrian is holding the NESCAC championship plaque in the celebratory team photo taken after the Jumbos won the tournament. Four months later, on September 21, 2010, Adrian’s fight against cancer ended. He was just eight years old when he died.
The relationship that blossomed between the baseball team and Adrian went both ways. The team gave him genuine friendship, and he showed the young men an unforgettable lesson in courage. With a promising new season just started, Adrian’s influence on the players is still strong.
“He was in hospice for his last few weeks and couldn’t see too well because he had a tumor affecting his eyesight,” says all-star shortstop David LeResche, A11, a two-year team captain. “He still had that spark, though. His sense of humor never went away. The way he dealt with adversity was just so impressive to me. That translates directly into athletics and everything you do in your life.”
The Friends of Jaclyn Foundation matches children with brain tumors and their families with a nearby college or high school sports team. Coach Casey, A80, G83, was contacted by a foundation representative on Adrian’s behalf in 2008, and arranged for the team to meet the young boy and his family at their home in Malden, Mass. Adrian connected with the compassionate group of Jumbos, and the bond grew through the team’s 2009 and 2010 seasons.
The players visited Adrian at home and in the hospital. When he was feeling up to it, his mother would bring him to Tufts to watch practices or to go to dinner with the team in the campus dining hall. Team members gave blood in his honor at Children’s Hospital in Boston. He was their lucky charm in the dugout the day they won the conference title.
“They embraced him totally,” says Parto Khorshidi, Adrian’s mom. “That was a wonderful effect on a child who is being away from his peer group. Due to his treatment, he wasn’t a part of any school for long. He didn’t have friends. That part was important for me as a parent.”
When Adrian died, the team’s presence at the funeral provided some comfort to the family. “My friends and colleagues all made comments about how graceful those young men were,” Khorshidi says. “They were Adrian’s honor guard that day.”
The Jumbos have Adrian’s initials stitched onto the back of their caps as they begin the new season. They have established a prize fund in Adrian’s memory that will be awarded to Tufts students who “demonstrate excellence both on the playing field and in the classroom, and who are actively engaged in work that will improve the human condition.” The team also recently participated in a radiothon to benefit Children’s Hospital.
The special friendship between the team and the family continues to grow. Khorshidi and her husband, Semir Misic, have had some of the Jumbos over for dinner a few times this year.
“Adrian’s equation in a physical form is not there, but his presence is still felt through this relationship,” Khorshidi says. “As the time passes, it will be less of knowing these young men individually, but I will know them as a group. Being with them, I still feel Adrian. They are my son’s friends.”
The team’s home opener at Huskins Field is Wednesday, March 30, against Massachusetts Maritime Academy. With several key players returning, the 2011 Jumbos hope to repeat last year’s success and then some. Similarly, their time with Adrian will be remembered for years to come.
“For us, it wasn’t about using him as motivation to win,” LeResche says. “We just thought it was the right thing to do. We had a great time with it. He gave us just as much pleasure as I’m sure we gave him. Just being around him and seeing his spirit was great.”
Paul Sweeney, Tufts’ sports information director, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To make a donation to support the Adrian Misic Prize Fund, make your check payable to Trustees of Tufts College, with “Misic Prize Fund” listed on the memo line, and send it to David Frew, Advancement Office, Tufts University, 80 George Street, Medford, MA 02155.