Just before 11:30 a.m. Tuesday, a tall and lanky young man with a familiar face arrived at the front entrance of All Children’s Hospital. He could just as easily have been resting up at home following a late-night at the office or focusing his thoughts on a daunting task looming later that evening.
But at this particular moment, there was no other place Tampa Bay Rays rookie pitcher Chris Archer wanted to be than All Children’s.
Never mind that only some 12 hours earlier, the Rays had just completed an exhilarating, must-win playoff comeback against the Boston Red Sox to keep their post-season hopes alive with a 5-4 walk-off victory. Never mind that he would soon be back at Tropicana Field a mile away, changing into his uniform for a critical Game 4 showdown with the Red Sox in the American League Divisional Series.
And never mind that Archer – a cerebral 25-year-old who emerged this season as a key member of the Rays’ rotation – might be called upon to play a pivotal relief role in case Game 4 starter Jeremy Hellickson struggles early against the Sox.
This was one relief appearance he was determined to make.
With that, Archer walked casually into the hospital lobby, ready to take an hour out of his morning to visit children needing a boost as they face far more important battles than baseball.
“This is a better way for me to prepare for my day than any other way,” he said. “Coming here and being uplifted by children who are in tough conditions – and they still have a smile on their face – makes me know that no matter what my condition is, I can still smile through it, too.”
Unlike the vast majority of Rays’ trips to the hospital this season, Archer wasn’t here as part of a scheduled club visit. In fact, he arranged this on his own, escorted only by one member of the Rays public relations staff, Carli Todd, who made sure there were plenty of Chris Archer baseball cards to sign for any child who wanted one.
If you’re keeping score, it was his third visit of 2013 – a tradition the North Carolina native began in June just days after being called up from Triple-A Durham, explaining that he wanted to come by right away in case he was sent back down to the minors and might miss the chance.
There were plenty of smiles during this visit, as Archer made easy conversation with children and parents alike, regardless of whether they recognized him.
Sixth-grader Trysta Ford explained that she didn’t do sports but liked to ride horses. “That’s a sport, right?” he responded encouragingly. In another room, he encountered two little girls, Madison and McKenzie, with their grandmother, and called out, “Who are these beautiful young ladies?”
In another room, a boy lay by himself when Archer stepped in and introduced himself. Then, he knelt beside the child’s bed and talked about how reading a book might help him pass the time. “Just find something that you’re somewhat interested in – they’ll take you to all kinds of different places,” he said, “It’s awesome.”
Then there was 12-year-old Rays fan Kyle Bertalan, who couldn’t have been happier to see who was walking into his room. Archer listened as Kyle, a youth ball pitcher, explained how he’s been told he might not make be able to play baseball professionally. “Well, playing in college or high school can take you a lot of fun places, too,” the Rays star responded. “So it’s not all about being a professional athlete. It’s about enjoying life and new friends and new places. You’ll be a professional at something.”
Five-year-old Da’rell Smith had a hug for the pitcher, who then held up the baseball card of himself and asked who it was. “That’s me,” Da’rell replied. Without missing a beat, Archer asked the little boy to sign it so the big-leaguer could keep it. But he also made sure to sign his own name on another card for Da’rell’s excited mom, Zandra Russ.
Before leaving, he spent time with 16-year-old Linda Corbett, who told him shyly that she didn’t follow baseball. “That’s okay, I just want to say hi,” he said. Archer asked her about college and what interested her, adding, “There’s no need to rush, because honestly, the first thing you choose is probably not the direction you’re going to go in anyway. So be patient. It’ll work out.”
Then the conversation turned to Archer and his team, and hopes that it will all work out this night.
“The whole town is counting on you,” interjected Dr. Paola Dees playfully, several feet away along with Linda’s mother, Patricia Corbett, and aunt Carolyn Anthony.
“The whole town – oooh, pressure,” Archer responded with a smile. “Well, we’re going to do our best,”
“Just win!” added Carolyn with a laugh.
In a way, Archer – and everyone in his path Tuesday – already had.
“Faces and Places” is a regular column written by Strategic Communications Editor Dave Scheiber highlighting those people, places and things that make All Children’s Hospital special. If you have an idea for a story, please contact writer Dave at (727) 767-2490 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Video and photos by Mollie Scheiber.