TORONTO—It was certainly a day that Kelsey Panton will never forget.
“Oh my, best day ever,” Ms. Panton tweeted in a message to family friends Shelley Croft and Deborah Woods as she described her day last Saturday, as the Childrens’ Wish Foundation of Canada teamed up with the Toronto Blue Jays to provide Kelsey her wish. It also marked the 20,000 wish the Children’s Wish Foundation has granted.
“My wish was to be able to throw out the first pitch at a Blue Jays Game,” Ms. Panton, who is 18-years-old and is originally from Gore Bay but now lives in Sudbury, told Jamie Campbell of Sportsnet in a special interview she participated in prior to the game on Saturday (a game the Blue Jays won 4-3 over the Baltimore Orioles). “I am a little nervous, but I’ve been practicing pretty hard on my throwing,” she said.
Ms. Panton also had her wish of meeting her favourite Blue Jay, third baseman Brett Lawrie. She told Mr. Campbell, while wearing a Blue Jays jersey, “I had become a Blue Jays fan after being offered a couple of tickets to a game and I thought I should watch a couple of games to get to know the team before I went to a game. I started to just watch all the Blue Jays games.”
After Kelsey was diagnosed with Burkitt’s lymphoma at the age of 16, trips from her home in Sudbury to Toronto’s Sick Kids Hospital to get chemotherapy became part of the family’s regular routine. During one such hospital stay, Kelsey was offered tickets to go to an upcoming Blue Jays game. Although she knew very little about the game or the Jays, she gladly accepted any opportunity to get away from the hospital, even for a brief while.
She decided to watch a few games on TV before attending the game at Rogers Centre to become more familiar with the game and the home team. From that moment, an ardent Jays fan was born and Kelsey would never miss a game if at all possible.
“Waking up in the hospital countless mornings I knew that I would have to receive chemo, but I also knew I would be able to watch the Jays play that day and immediately it took the dread out of the day away and all I could think about was watching the boys play,” wrote Ms. Panton in a letter to the Blue Jays. “I can honestly say that watching the Toronto Blue Jays helped take my mind off my battle.”
“While superlatives are often used loosely, the work by Children’s Wish to provide 20,000 wishes to such deserving children is truly an incredible accomplishment,” said Paul Beeston, president and CEO of the Toronto Blue Jays. “We are flattered and proud to host Kelsey and Children’s Wish for this special first pitch on Saturday.”
“It is very gratifying to witness the positive impact that a wish can have on a child like Kelsey and on an entire family,” said Children’s Wish CEO Chris Kotsopoulos. “It is even more gratifying to know that, with the support of our donors and partners like the Toronto Blue Jays, Children’s Wish has had a similar impact on 19,999 other children and their families.”
Paul St. Germain, director of communications with Children’s Wish Foundation, told the Recorder, “it’s a big deal for us. Children’s Wish Foundation is proud of the fact that we have never refused a wish eligible child over the 30 years. As this is the 20,000 wish being granted we are really pleased to make it happen with the Blue Jays. It is a significant milestone and you can see the kind of impact it has in kids like Kelsey.”
“The whole idea is to make the experience really memorable for Kelsey,” said Mr. St. Germain, outlining some other surprises that she received. “The hotel room Kelsey and her family stayed in was upgraded at the Rogers Centre, it was facing the field so they could watch the game Friday from their room.”
“Kelsey also led off the seventh inning stretch at the game,” said Mr. St. Germain, who added, “the Blue Jays provided her a $1,000 gift card for the Jays’ Shop. As well, she was the first to run the bases after the game as part of our Junior Jays program. And the Blue Jays invited her back on Sunday to enjoy the game. With all the activities she was part of on Saturday, it was a special day but she would have missed most of the game.”
The Blue Jays also presented Kelsey with flowers, and after throwing out the first pitch she was presented with flowers and a hug from Brett Lawrie. “She let him know they are going to get married some day,” said Mr. St. Germain. “She is a pretty great kid and it was a pretty fun day for her.”
In her letter to the Blue Jays, Ms. Panton had wrote in part, “in December of 2011 I received the scariest news of my life, I was battling Burkitt’s lymphoma. I had to leave my family and friends in Sudbury and go to Toronto to undergo intense chemotherapy. Being away from family was one of the most difficult parts of treatment, not being able to have a huge support system there with me and taken my mind off my battle with cancer. Luckily for me I discovered a new love I never knew I had, my love for baseball.”
“I have been in remission for a little over a year now and to this day my love for the Jays has only gotten stronger,” wrote Ms. Panton. “It would be my biggest dream to be able to throw a first pitch to one of my favourite players, Brett Lawrie, at one of the home games. I would love to be able to meet this team that has brought me so much joy and happiness. Although I am not the oldest and longest Blue Jays fan ever, I would like to be able to say thank you to the players whose passion for the game and battle helped me with mine.”