Braves Cheered On by Truly Brave Hospice Fans
SCOTT SIMON, Host:
Philip Graitcer has a story about how the sisters and a coach brought together the patients' home and the home to Braves.
PHILIP GRAITCER: It's one of five homes run by the Hawthorne Dominicans, an order of Catholic nuns founded 100 years ago by Nathaniel Hawthorne's daughter. Sister Edwin(ph), the home's director, has been a sister for almost 43 years.
EDWIN: Our mission is to take care of people dying with cancer who cannot afford to pay for care elsewhere, which is mostly your poor and your middle class.
GRAITCER: About two-dozen residents are here, and along with loving care, they get daily doses of baseball.
(SOUNDBITE OF NOISE)
GRAITCER: When the game is being played, they can do the cheers and fireworks from inside the chapel.
(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)
GRAITCER: Sister Edwin grew up in Cleveland.
EDWIN: I'm a Cleveland Indians fan. Sister Miriam(ph) is a Philadelphia fanatic and Sister Walter is for Boston, and Sister Agustin is a die-hard Mets fan. We have a Braves shrine up in the men's day room.
GRAITCER: The link between baseball and the sisters became more tangible about seven years ago when Braves coach Bobby Dews happened upon the home. He's been with the Atlanta Braves since 1974.
BOBBY DEWS: One day, I decided to go south out of the stadium to do my running. And I saw this building up on the hill and happened to go in there and looked at the courtyards. And it looked like some sort of a religious establishment.
GRAITCER: Dews' religion is baseball. He spent his life playing, managing and coaching. We talked in the dugout before a Braves game. Once he found Our Lady of Perpetual Care, he started dropping by regularly, talking with the sisters and sitting outside next to the oak tree.
DEWS: I love that courtyard so much and I love the statues that are out there. And it's a great calming experience, and when I go there and then come to the ballpark, I have a much better attitude than I've got before I go there.
GRAITCER: Back in 1999, he was going through a rough time. He'd just been moved from third base coach to bullpen coach. And his dream of one day becoming a Major League manager seemed to be drifting away. He says he discovered Our Lady of Perpetual Care just in time.
DEWS: I'm a recovering alcoholic and anything that I can do to keep from having that old desire to drink is a plus for me. And this probably has prolonged my period of sobriety.
GRAITCER: Willie Kendrick(ph) has been at the home for four months.
WILLIE KENDRICK: I have throat cancer, and a stroke on my left thigh.
GRAITCER: Kendrick uses an electric car to move around. He's 64, a lifelong baseball fan, but never had enough money to go to a game. Now, when the Braves are at home, he rolls outside and just listens to the crowd.
KENDRICK: I would give anything to go. (unintelligible). I can go there every night when I ain't got nothing to do. That will be just (unintelligible) me I can go every night.
GRAITCER: Unidentified Man: Welcome to Turner Field, y'all, and enjoy the game today.
GRAITCER: On this hot August afternoon, Willie Kendrick is finally at a ballgame.
KENDRICK: I'm (unintelligible) the Majors. You know, to see it here, I've seen them on television, but it's nothing like being here, this close to it.
GRAITCER: For 25 years, coach Bobby Dews arrived at the Braves Stadium not knowing that the hospice and the sisters were right next-door, silently caring for the dying. But now, it's fixed in his mind.
DEWS: There's probably not a day goes by that I don't think about that home in some way.
GRAITCER: And although twists and turns in his baseball career may not have led him to where he had hoped, finding Our Lady of Perpetual Hope has offered a certain unexpected consolation.
DEWS: It's almost like a heaven on Earth because the people know they are dying and - but there's such a beautiful, loving, caring atmosphere there right before they die that it's got to be just, maybe, a practice before getting to heaven.
(SOUNDBITE OF CROWD CHEERING)
GRAITCER: For NPR News, I'm Phillip Graitcer.
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