An 8-year-old boy from Atlanta named Wyatt Alford came to spring training in Sarasota, Fla. and saw left-hander Brian Matusz pitch for the Baltimore Orioles. Alford didn't know until the next morning by reading a newspaper that they have something important in common: They both have severe nut allergies. Matusz still gets teased about it by his teammates, and suspects Alford has gone through similar treatment. But it's nothing to be embarrassed about, Matusz says.
Inspired by watching Matusz, 27, succeed in Major League Baseball, the young boy became an instant fan and mailed him some unique items to autograph. As a result, Matusz, too, became a big fan of Alford's.
Dan Connolly of the Baltimore Sun reported the details of a neat acquaintance between a boy and a ballplayer:
Inside the envelope was a newspaper article detailing Matusz's frightening allergic reaction to a dinner prepared in peanut oil March 9 that sent the 27-year-old left-hander to the emergency room.
Also included in the package was a portable shot of epinephrine that allergy sufferers carry in case of a reaction. Although similar in content to the ubiquitous EpiPen, the Auvi-Q inside Matusz's envelope was instead square and flat like a thick credit card — easy for autographing — and included audio instructions for injecting it.
Before noticing a letter Alford wrote that came in the package, Matusz was perplexed. Why did this person send him an EpiPen-like device? Because he or she was worried Matusz didn't have the right meds? Or, was it a collector with an eccentric taste in memorabilia looking for a unique autograph?
Matusz's first reaction was to laugh. But then he read Alford's note. He enthusiastically wrote back, and Alford's family recorded the boy opening the package for YouTube posterity.
One of the more concerning, frustrating and disturbing developments for parents in recent years is the rise of nut allergies. Some of the increase is due to awareness, but a lot is more like, "What the heck?" Although not everyone loves the All-American peanut butter and jelly sandwich, can you imagine not being able to eat one without putting your life at risk? Or, what about going to a baseball game and not having your peanuts and crackerjack because you might go into anaphylactic shock? At best, it's an obnoxious inconvenience. At worst, it's fatal.
This is the way Matusz, and perhaps 3 million others similarly afflicted, must live life. Matusz needed urgent medical treatment during spring training after unknowingly eating tuna prepared in peanut oil. He was back pitching a couple of days later — that's the appearance Alford saw — but not before his throat started to close on him. Good thing that Matusz could inject a dose of Epinephrine on the spot, and also that he visited an emergency room later when another attack came.
Like Matusz when he was young, Alford wants to be a major league pitcher someday. In the meantime, he has to be "extra careful" in restaurants, Connolly writes. He can't have desserts unless he knows how they were prepared. He bring his own cupcakes to birthday parties. He can't fully participate in some of the rites that most of us as kids took for granted.
"It's pretty hard, because I can't have most of the foods other kids can have," Wyatt said.
But, as Matusz has shown, their shared condition can be controlled. Life can be lived. Dreams still can come true. You just have to be extra careful.
Alford has since parked his allegiance to the Braves on the back burner. Brian Matusz and the Orioles are No. 1 to him now.
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