When pitcher Derek Holland returned from the disabled list Tuesday for his first start of the season, it had very little effect on the fate of the Texas Rangers. The Rangers are in last, their season unsalvageable, no matter who returns from the DL.
But Holland's first start certainly affected a group of fans inside the ICU at Cook Children’s Medical Center in Fort Worth. They gathered specifically to watch Holland pitch — and he did well, going seven innings against the Royals in Kansas City, allowing one run and striking out six in his first start since a knee injury sustained in January.
The numbers won't be as memorable to Holland's friends in the children's hospital ICU as the words. Before the game started, Holland wrote "Briggs" in the pitcher's mound dirt with his finger. He also wrote "Briggs" on his cleats.
They were references to Briggs Berry, an 18-year-old who has been in ICU for a year fighting a rare immune deficiency disorder that doctors call X-Linked Hyper IGM Syndrome. According to Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News, Holland befriended Briggs after a visit to the ICU. Holland visited repeatedly and started texting Briggs regularly.
Last week, Briggs' family and supporters got bad news. Doctors said his condition was worsening and he might only have 24 hours to live. Holland came to visit for what he thought would be the last time.
As fate would have it, Holland was having back spasms that delayed his return to baseball. Otherwise, he might have been on the road and not able to visit Brooks. Holland told the Dallas Morning News:
“It was the hardest thing,” Holland said. “But he’s made me see a different side of things. He has meant so much to me. I want him to see that.”
Despite the 24-hour warning, Briggs is still alive, thus the viewing party Tuesday night when Holland took the mound. DeAnna Berry, Briggs' mom, told the Dallas Morning News, they "wouldn't miss it for anything."
And while most eyes in the Rangers' world were waiting to see what kind of shape Holland was in, his mind was partially with his friends in the ICU. His gesture made sure they knew it.
“I want to be back on the mound, and that’s huge,” Holland said before his start Tuesday. “But I want to do this for him, as well. I want to show him that not only is he fighting, but I’m fighting, too; we are both fighting together.”
For one night at least, the 2014 Texas Rangers were playing meaningful baseball in September.
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