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AN EARTHQUAKE IN CHINA / Ken Kalfus I CAN'T REMEMBER NOW if it's Richie Cort who was the kid with leukemia and Burt Green who is the baseball star, or whether it's the other way around. My eyes sting in the cathode ray shower gushing from my video display terminal, ink from the disintegrating papers scattered about the newsroom clogs my pores, the desk is screaming for copy—but I'm not even sure if I'm Stanley Besserman the newspaper reporter. This is the one about the slugger visiting the dying boy in the hospital and promising to dedicate his next home run to him. I was there with several other journalists, the kid's family, representatives of the hospital and baseball club managements and the kid himself, who appeared much too weak to hold for the photographers the autographed balls the star had brought him. This sort of thing goes on all the time, maybe every day that I show up for work. A national celebrity, the star may not be the team's most valuable player, but he'd be the one to whom a ten-year-old kid would write from the hospital, the one who would respond by visiting the boy on his next day off, the one who would enthusiastically provide a "photo opportunity" on a day when there would otherwise be no local sports news, and the one who would do it all with enough drama and style to make the child believe that his name really was on the next baseball leaving the stadium. When he and his entourage arrived at the hospital there wasn't a single doctor, nurse, or patient, save for the comatose, who didn't know it. His muscles bursting against the lines of his business suit, he strode into the hospital room as if the bearers following him carried the cure, and not several autographed baseballs and a case of his eponymously endorsed chocolate bars. Nevertheless, he showed grace and intelligence and I was surprised to see that even the kid's parents, who had appeared so affected by their son's illness that I could not imagine them ever happy, nearly glowed in his presence. The star shook hands with everyone except the reporters, the scene's impartial arbiters. He saved his last and most effusive greeting for the kid. The star shook his hand vigorously and tousled his thin hair and told him a joke, which was funny at the time, about the boy being on the 15-day disabled list. The kid didn't laugh and looked slightly apologetic for that. He watched everything in the packed room without turning his head. The Missouri Review · 27 Lost in a bed several sizes too big for him, he was unmoved and looked as if he would never be moved again. The star appreciated this, and a small, thoughtful ripple of skin appeared on one side of his face, quickly crossed it and then vanished. It suddenly left him vulnerable, picked off. He gave the boy a ball signed by the members of his team and then signed a few himself, and they all said, "Dear Richie or Burt or Stanley, Get Well Soon." He promised the kid the home run and that there would be an announcement at the stadium and on television, that the home run had been for him, and then, as if that was not enough, he promised that after his next base hit the ball would be removed from play and be sent to the hospital, that as soon as the boy recovered he and his family would be the star's guests at a ballgame, and that when he was old enough he would be invited to the stadium for a major league tryout. He just couldn't promise enough, and I saw that this wasn't the gaudy excess that Cort or Green or Besserman was known for, but a sign of real frustration. He was making it up as he went along, he looked at no one but the kid, and he did so as if he was looking at the dying child for some sort...


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