Against the Odds: Home Run Promises Give Patients Heart

It is a story almost too good to be true. Yankees outfielder Brett Gardner, accompanied by Linda Ruth Tosetti, granddaughter of legendary slugger Babe Ruth, visited New York-Presbyterian Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital on May 15, 2009, to read books to sick children. The visit was sponsored by Project Sunshine, and when 18-year-old Alyssa Esposito heard Gardner was coming, she made sure to meet him. She had been waiting for a heart transplant for months, and from her hospital window, she would see the lights of the new Yankee Stadium.

The signature of Project Sunshine is a bracelet, and Alyssa gave one to Gardner, insisting it would bring him luck in that night’s game. “This will make you hit a home run,” she said.

The odds of that happening were so long, even Gardner had his doubts. He was no power hitter—going into the game that night he’d hit just one home run in 229 plate appearances. To make it even more unlikely, Gardner wasn’t slated to start the game.

But in the third inning, starting outfielder Johnny Damon was thrown out for arguing a called strike and Gardner was sent in to replace him. His first at-bat, Gardner hit a single. His second, he hit a ball that rattled around in left field long enough for the speedy Gardner to circle the bases for an inside-the-park home run. It was the first inside-the-park home run in the new stadium.

Gardner had 3 plate appearances that night, and the odds that he would hit a home run in one of them were slim—just 1 in 76.67. And yet with Alyssa’s bracelet in his possession, Gardner managed to do just that. The story gets even better. Around the time Gardner was crossing home plate, a donor heart became available. Alyssa was whisked into surgery.

Though 1 in 1.2 (83.3%) patients waiting for a heart transplant receive one in a year, Alyssa’s personal chances were not quite so good; at NewYork-Presbyterian, 68% of patients in her demographic receive a heart transplant within a year of joining the waiting list. Given that, Alyssa had about a 0.3% chance that she would receive a transplant on that particular day.

Gardner’s success is made more remarkable by the fact that he was not much of a home run hitter, but it was not the first time a New York Yankee has hit a home run for a sick child. In October of 1926, Linda Ruth Tosetti’s grandfather famously promised another severely ill child, 11 year-old Johnny Sylvester, that he would hit a home run for him that day. That day happened to be Game 4 of the World Series, and Babe Ruth more than fulfilled his promise: he hit 3 homers.

In the 2009 playoffs, Gardner has mostly been on the bench. Before sending him in to hit, Manager Joe Girardi may want to send him back to New York-Presbyterian.

A media representative from the New York Yankees confirmed that Brett Gardner still keeps the bracelet from Alyssa Esposito in his locker.

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