Tampa Yankees jerseys to raise money to benefit cancer research

Published Aug. 6, 2016


When the Tampa Yankees host the Daytona Tortugas tonight, they'll do so with a few more helping hands.

Eleven more, to be exact.

The advanced Class A affiliate of the New York Yankees will try to raise awareness for pediatric cancer tonight by wearing jerseys covered in gold handprints taken from children who have or had the disease. Each one, American Cancer Society volunteer Laura Eicher said, has its own story of fight and triumph.

And her son's story is one of them.

Two and a half years ago, Cole had surgery and radiation treatments to remove a brain tumor. Today he's doing well, has returned to sports — he plays club soccer for the St. Pete Raiders — and will start high school this month at Calvary Christian. Since his diagnosis, Cole, 14, and his mother have become voices in the community for pediatric cancer awareness and the American Cancer Society.

The idea for tonight's event began last spring, when Minor League Baseball announced it would be joining forces with the American Cancer Society as a charity partner for the 2016 season. Jessica Hong-Tanner, an account manager for corporate partnerships with the Tampa Bay division of the organization, immediately reached out to the Tampa Yankees to see if they wanted to get involved.

"We had done breast cancer," said Allison Stortz, the team's promotions coordinator. "This year when we were talking about dates, September is pediatric cancer awareness month. We said, 'Let's do that.' It's so different when it hits a child."

The jerseys — which will be worn by players then auctioned off with the proceeds going to the American Cancer Society — feature prints from children ranging in age from 13 months to 18 years.

Jackson Carter, 11, met Cole in the hospital while Jackson was being treated for osteosarcoma, a bone tumor on his femur. The boys would talk sports and play with remote control cars while their mothers, Caroline Carter and Eicher, leaned on each other through shared experiences.

"As soon as it was done, he was back at school, back getting on a skateboard and riding bikes," Caroline Carter said of her son's recovery. "He acts like it was just an experience. It doesn't define him or his future. Sometimes we actually kind of forget."

For other families, it's harder to forget. And their child's inclusion on the jerseys will make it so they don't have to.

Three of the 11 handprints belong to children who have died, including Ezra Matthews, whose father Kyle went on to start Beat Neuroblastoma, a nonprofit designed to raise money and awareness for the disease that took Ezra's life at 2 years old.

"Sometimes people really think, 'Well, I think things go okay for kids.' But it's one in five do not survive," Eicher said. "Two of them, the families will be at the game. And they are so proud that their child's memory and their child's fight and courage can continue on."

In addition to the money raised from the auction of the jerseys, the Yankees will donate $5 out of every $6 ticket purchased through the event's link to the American Cancer Society, earmarked for pediatric cancer.

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"It's just really important to not only get the message out there but to really celebrate these kids and their lives, and do it in a really fun environment," Hong-Tanner said. "It's amazing when organizations like these come on board to support us, because they have such a large reach we wouldn't normally get."

For Caroline Carter, the community of parents and children who have also been affected by pediatric cancer is the type of family she never wanted to be a part of, but one that she now treasures. She'll have the opportunity to sit with them tonight at Steinbrenner Field, as their cause gets the attention they all say it deserves.

In the meantime, Laura Eicher has been sharing a photo of the jersey on social media, hoping to reach an even larger audience than just the Tampa Bay area. Because with baseball as a platform, she hopes the fight against pediatric cancer can really take off.

"I realized 99 percent of the people that see this photo, they're not in our area, they won't see the actual jersey," she said. "But if they could get inspired to take that picture to their local team or maybe tell their story, then something good always comes from that."