On a recent July evening, the Detroit Tigers helped ease the pain of a family grieving the loss of a wife and mother.
Nothing can bring back Dawn Gentz after cancer took her life in April, but her widowed husband and two young boys were given a chance to lose themselves for a while at one of their favorite places, Comerica Park. The Tigers treated Mike Gentz, along with his sons and Gentz's adult cousin, to a behind-the-scenes experience at the ballpark July 30. Batting practice on the field, a visit to the Champions Club, great seats behind home plate for the game and a chance to meet several current players, manager Jim Leyland and 1968 World Series idol Willie Horton.
Mike and his boys — Matthew, 9, and Preston, 7 — and Mike's cousin were beside themselves in awe. And they found themselves feeling grateful to their friends.
Several of Mike's buddies, online and otherwise, had contacted Allison Hagen of the Bless You Boys blog and asked if she could help set something up with the Tigers for the Gentzses. The Tigers came through, big-time. And the best part was yet to come.
Among the current players, the boys' favorite was Alex Avila. That's how we know Matthew and Preston are earnest Tigers fans; the one they wanted to see the most was hitting less than .200. Not only did Avila make the kids' day by interacting with them before the game, he also happened to hit a grand slam against Stephen Strasburg. A total coincidence. Probably.
Gentz wrote about the experience for Bless You Boys, which is part of the SB Nation network:
At one point Avila came over to say hi and meet us. We spoke for a moment, he signed the boys’ hats, and took a picture with us. I asked him how many bruises he had, and he laughed and said "Many. Many." His ﬁve o’clock shadow told me it had been probably two hours since he last shaved, and I hesitated to give him some pointers on his swing. The boys were in a daze as Avila walked back toward the cage, and I didn’t think the day could get any better.
Gentz later wrote that he doubted he could ever go to another baseball game again, because there would be no topping July 30. But he's too much of a fan to stay away, he added. Of course he'll go back.
Still, a fairytale day for Gentz and his kids had come at a catastrophic cost. Dawn Gentz's cancer, thought to be cleaned out after an initial diagnosis of melanoma in 2009, had returned to her abdomen in 2011. The final two years of her life were, putting it too plainly, a struggle. Her pain has ended, but Gentz's family still lives with it.
Somberly, he ended his post with a reminder and a plea to anyone reading:
Lastly, I’ll get on my soapbox and leave you with the last words my wife wrote on her blog, and I hope you take this to heart: Check your skin, people. Check your skin.