Thursday, December 12, 2013
PORTLAND – Only a few ice cream biscuits remained in his insulated red bag, but Peter Stein of Portland lingered in the sparsely populated upper section of the left-field stands at Hadlock Field.
Peter Stein pauses to wave toward the Barbara Bush Children’s Hospital while selling Sea Dog Biscuits at Hadlock Field. Stein spent two years at the hospital undergoing treatment for leukemia. Halfway through the sixth inning at every game, fans are encouraged to wave to kids at the hospital. The Sea Dogs partner with Maine Medical Center for a program called Strike Out Cancer in Kids.
Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer
Slugger, the Sea Dogs mascot, mauls Stein during a game. “You don’t want to mess with Slugger,” Stein said. “He’ll steal your food.”
Gregory Rec / Staff Photographer
A blond-haired boy of perhaps 10 approached him and bought a biscuit.
Atop the third-base dugout, the Portland Sea Dogs' mascot, Slugger, finished his nightly dance. Up in the press box, public address announcer Dean Rogers asked the crowd to join Slugger in acknowledging the young fans who might be watching the baseball game from the Barbara Bush Children's Hospital, across Park Avenue and up the hill.
"We hope they get better soon," Rogers said. "Let's join Slugger and give the kids our Get Well Wave."
A wad of bills in his left hand, the bag slung over his right shoulder, Stein gazed above the rim of Hadlock, to where "Maine Medical Center" glowed in the moist night air, and raised his right arm to wave.
A youngster looking out from one of the sixth-floor windows wouldn't be likely to pick out Stein, even with his bright yellow T-shirt.
The view from the pediatric cancer center shows most of Hadlock's outfield, a bit of the infield and a chunk of the left-field stands. "It's mostly just the outfielders and some of the fans that you can see," Stein said.
He knows. When he was the age of that blond-haired boy, he was on the other side of the windows, looking down on Hadlock from a hospital room and wondering if baseball would be part of his future.
BASEBALL SERVED AS CONNECTION
For two years, from shortly before he turned 10 until shortly before he turned 12, Stein was in and out of the children's hospital, having chemotherapy or recovering from its effects. He had acute lymphoblastic leukemia, discovered when he was on the cusp of Little League.
His dad is a big baseball fan, and he raised Peter likewise. So going to Hadlock to watch the Sea Dogs was something special.
"That was one of the toughest things about going through treatment, was giving up playing," said Stein, who's now 17 and healthy, about to go off to Boston College. "I was OK with giving up soccer and the other sports, and running, but giving up baseball was huge."
Nearly every day for two years starting in September of 2003, Stein didn't know what to expect when he woke up in the morning. What medicine would he get? How would his body react?
The one constant was baseball.
"I was a little kid ... and everything was absolutely crazy," Stein said. "My one strand of consistency was being able to watch those games, those little bit of the games I could see from up there."
He couldn't see much, and he wouldn't stay long at the window of the hospital's game room. Five minutes. Half an hour at most. Stare at the light towers, watch the outfielders converge on a fly ball, imagine the sound of fans cheering a good play or a big hit. Then pad back to his room wearing paper slippers and a wistful smile.
"Baseball was my connection with a healthier world and a cancer-free self," he would write later, "but all I could do was watch as it began to quickly slip out of my life."
He missed out on Little League, but eventually returned to the diamond in middle school. Where once he had been one of the better players, he found he was one of the worst. Steroids had bloated his body, and it took time -- a long time -- to adjust.
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Peter Stein sells Sea Dogs Biscuits during a game at Hadlock Field on Wednesday. Stein wrote about the Get Well Wave, which the Sea Dogs have done at every home game since 2004, in his college application.
Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer