Out of the park

Surprise visit: After spending part of the morning in the playroom on the pediatric floor at Mission Children’s Hospital, Asheville Tourist baseball players visited children in their hospital rooms.

Eight-year-old Cody Cuthbert sat a little taller in his hospital bed when he saw two baseball players walking down the hallway. They weren’t the usual doctors, nurses and aides he sees every day.

"He's been excited all morning,” said his mother Jessica Witzigman. “When they told us they were coming, it really gave him something to look forward to." And after spending five days in the pediatric intensive care unit at Mission Children's Hospital, Cody wanted to talk about baseball instead of his case of walking pneumonia.

"I'm a good hitter, and I'm a good thrower," Cody bragged to pitcher Geoff Parker and outfielder David Kandilas.

Cody was just one of the children visited by members of Asheville's minor league ball club, the Tourists, along with mascot Ted E Tourist on May 29 at Mission Children's Hospital. Six players took a break from playing catch on the diamond to talk, play and autograph backpacks in the pediatric unit and ICU.

"I don't know who's more excited — them or us," pitcher Russell Brewer said.

For Kandilas, the kids were the ones giving back. "I think it reinforces how truly blessed we are to do something that we love and play baseball for a living," he said. "To see these kids smile even when they're struggling, it's priceless."

On average, Mission Children's Hospital admits 1,600 patients to its pediatric inpatient units. As Child Life Manager Tara Lynch explained, a visit from the baseball players provided its own unique healing for the kids and their families. "It was a moment to escape the worry of illness and hospitalization," Lynch said. "The Tourists visit helped to energize and engage the children and families, because it encouraged a sense of fun despite whatever the medical challenges the families may have been going through at the time."

For Cody, the 10-minute visit gave him a more than an autographed book bag. "When [Parker] was telling me about the baseball game," he said as a big smile spread across his face, "That's what I liked best."

— Caitlin Byrd can be reached at 251-1333, ext. 140, or at cbyrd@mountainx.com.

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