LITTLE KIDS — SEE BECKHAM ZOBRIST, COUSIN OF BEN — THEY DON’T KNOW WHAT THEY’RE DOIN’, BUT THEY KNOW A HELLUVA LOT MORE THAN WE DO. COPY.
Ben Zobrist is a major league baseball player and a good one.
Very versatile; can hit. A switch-hitter in fact.
Made his bones with Joe Maddon’s Tampa Bay Rays, then won World Series Championships with the Royals in 2015 and the Cubbies in ’16 after a cameo as a member of the Oakland A’s. In fact, he was the 2016 World Series MVP.
The 35-year-old native of Eureka, Illinois certainly understands the gravity of Chicago’s historic triumph after 108 years of failure.
But this is not a story about Ben Zobrist.
Nor is it another in an unceasing and interminable number of Cubs-soaked narratives.
Rather this shall be an attempt to grab onto something bigger than baseball.
It is called life and how we perceive it. Recognizing what’s important and what’s not.
But mostly this is a testament to the resilience and unbridled optimism of children.
Of little kids.
We can all learn from kids every day that we breathe. Kids are the future, sure. But it’s more than that. Kids are everything good and pure that we are not or have forgotten over time how to be. To say that kids are the greatest simply does not give them enough credit.
Of course they can also be a little nasty and hurtful until you straighten ’em out.
Beckham Zobrist is a seven-year-old cancer survivor from central Illinois (Morton) who was diagnosed with retinoblastoma or RB, a very rare eye cancer most commonly afflicting children.
RB occurs when nerve cells in the retina — the sensitive lining on the inside of the eye — develop genetic mutations which cause the cells to multiply when healthy cells die. This accumulating mass of cells forms a tumor which can further invade the eye and metastasize to the brain and spine.
Occurring in one or both eyes, there are fewer than 20,000 documented cases of this condition in the United States each year. In order to prevent the cancer’s spread, Beckham’s right eye had to be removed.
Young Beckham was the recipient of his first prosthetic eye four years ago when he was really young.
An ocularist hand-painted the eye to match the towheaded Hollywood-handsome boy’s existing and functioning blue one. The likeness was close enough so that no one would know that Beckham had lost the eye unless he chose to volunteer the information.
Well almost no one.
Prosthetics aren’t perfect, eye socket molds must be constantly updated and kids notice everything and filter little.
So it wasn’t long before some of Beckham’s kindergarten chums figured out that his eyes weren’t like theirs and the childish barbs began.
Heartbreaking but as old as the hills. Life is full of lessons and teachable moments and Beckham was paying close attention.
Shortly after enduring the taunts of his T-ball teammates who called him a “freak,” Beckham asked his parents for a new eye for Christmas. Knowing that this wish could never be granted they did the next best thing.
They made arrangements for the baseball-loving boy to become the proud owner of a custom-made eye sporting the iconic Chicago Cubs logo.
Now there’s a signature example of turning lemons into lemonade.
And when Beckham exhibited the heart of a lion yet again by showing and telling all in a school presentation to his classmates, the deal was sealed.
The “freak” became a real live superhero.
Not just his peers were impressed.
Beckham’s story went viral; he was the subject of an E:60 vignette; and certainly of greater significance to him, he and his family were given a personal pre-game tour of Wrigley which included a sit-down of sorts with some of the Cubs players and coaches.
Remarked Cubbies bench coach Dave Martinez of Beckham, “he’s my idol and I look up to him and other kids like him that’s gone through what he’s gone through and wish him all the best. I told him he’s more than welcome to come back any time he wants.”
The then-disabled Kyle Schwarber told the boy that unfortunately he wasn’t able to use his bat and offered it to him as a gift.
Anthony Rizzo, a cancer survivor himself, came to the dugout to meet and talk to Beckham.
And Beckham’s distant cousin Ben? (Ben’s Grandpa Zobrist and Beckham’s Great-Grandpa Zobrist were brothers).
I imagine that the 2016 World Series MVP — who presented him with an autographed baseball among other keepsakes and Cubs bombonieres — is only too happy to take a backseat to the young lad who so admiringly gazes at him with eyes wide open.
[Editor’s Note: This piece was written by Mr. Kaplan in December 2016.]