Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Dying Spring Hill fan finds fellowship with Rays


Harry Cummings sat in his wheelchair by the dugout and took it all in.

"Is that home plate?" asked the 80-year-old Spring Hill man who doctors say has only weeks left to live. "It doesn't look that far from here to hit a home run."

Cummings is dying from kidney cancer. The former Baptist preacher says he is ready to go when God is ready to take him.

But Sunday he had some living to do, thanks to grandson Jeremy Via and the Tampa Bay Rays, who arranged for a pregame tour and meet-and-greet with players.

Cummings watches every Rays game on television and has followed the team intensely since its first game in 1998. But before Sunday, he had never been down on the field at Tropicana Field. He'd never met a Ray.

His favorite is Ben Zobrist, the All Star who is vocal about his Christianity. As Zobrist approached, Cummings got up from his wheelchair and stood at his side for nearly 10 minutes as they talked about baseball and their faith.

"A fellow Christian," said Zobrist, putting his arm around the frail man with a ready smile who had once played catcher in Little Genesee, N.Y.

Rays baseball helps keep him going, Cummings said. He's excited about the team's recent surge and hopes to see them back in the World Series.

And he's still thrilled that they dumped "Devil" from their name for the 2008 season, the same year that they made it to the World Series.

"Best thing they ever did," Cummings said.

He beamed as he chatted with Evan Longoria ("Hello, young man," Longoria said); jokingly scolded Jose Molina for not blocking wild pitches well enough ("I'm doing the best I can," Molina replied with a smile); and complimented the clutch hitting of rookie Wil Myers ("Thank you, thank you, thank you," Myers said).

"This is the happiest I've seen him in a long time," said Via, 23, who struggled not to cry.

Cummings helped raise Via and took him to his first Rays game about a dozen years ago. "He's like a father to me," Via said.

Via had been trying to gather enough money through an online fundraising site to take his grandfather back to a Rays game when Hernando County firefighters took up his cause, contacting the Rays.

The Rays provided four tickets in the plush Hancock Bank Club with free food and beverages for Cummings; Via; his brother, Garrett Helton, 15; and their mother, Celinda Jones, 54, who is Cummings' daughter.

It was a memory that everyone will hold onto in the difficult days ahead, Jones said.

"God, family, Rays," she said, reciting the family motto as she watched her father talk baseball with Rays manager Joe Maddon.

When it was time to leave the field, Cummings' white Rays hat was dotted with player autographs.

And he had met, touched and laughed with the men who he roots for every day.

"It keeps your mind off things," Cummings said. "But I know where I'm going."

Charlie Frago can be reached at or (727) 445-4159. You can follow him on Twitter @CharlieFrago

Dying Spring Hill fan finds fellowship with Rays 08/04/13 [Last modified: Sunday, August 4, 2013 10:06pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Maria: Clearwater Coast Guard plane aids rescue near Puerto Rico


    Eight minutes. That's how long it took the Petty Officer 3rd Class Darryn Manley of the Coast Guard said it took him to spot the boat that capsized off a Puerto Rican island on Thursday.

  2. Mom of girl who died looking for candy seeks to keep husband away

    Public Safety

    TAMPA — Eight days after her 4-year-old daughter died in the care of paternal grandparents, pregnant Lizette Hernandez sat in a Hillsborough County courthouse Friday, attempting to seek full-time custody of her 19-month-old son.

    Lizette Hernandez, 22, completes paperwork Friday for a motion for protection from domestic violence against her husband, Shane Zoller. Their daughter, Yanelly, 4, died in a reported gun accident at the home of Zoller's parents Sept. 14. She alleges that her husband hit her and caused her to fall on a grave marker at their daughter's funeral Thursday in a tussle over their remaining 1-year-old son. [JONATHAN CAPRIEL  |  Times]
  3. New owners take over downtown St. Petersburg's Hofbräuhaus


    ST. PETERSBURG — The downtown German beer-hall Hofbräuhaus St. Petersburg has been bought by a partnership led by former Checkers Drive-In Restaurants president Keith Sirois.

    The Hofbrauhaus, St. Petersburg, located in the former historic Tramor Cafeteria, St. Petersburg, is under new ownership.

  4. Ed Sheeran coming to Raymond James Stadium in Tampa


    Let it never be said Ed Sheeran hasn't given the people of Tampa what they want.

  5. Editorial: Once more, homeowners are let down by state housing agency


    Once upon a time, the federal government created a program called the Hardest Hit Fund. Its goal was admirable, and its mission important. The fund was designed to aid Americans in danger of losing their houses after the Great Recession had wreaked havoc on the economy. Unfortunately, the folks in Washington erred in …

    The Hardest Hit Fund was designed to aid Americans in danger of losing their houses after the Great Recession. Unfortunately, the folks in Washington trusted Florida to get that money into the hands of people who needed it most.