By the time the spectators’ tears had dried away from an emotional pregame ceremony and the first pitch was in the books, it was easy to forget this wasn’t your average Saturday morning at the ballpark, because it felt like it was.
A properly-painted baseball diamond on a swath of winter-worn grass in front of Sentara Williamsburg Regional Medical Center was stocked with bases, a home plate, a makeshift pitcher’s mound and even a swiftly-assembled but sturdy backstop. There were pregame pep talks, uniformed umpires and if you used your imagination, the line of yet-to-bloom crape myrtles serving as the outfield fence could have been the ivy-laden walls of Wrigley Field.
If you came for authentic baseball, you got it.
Sherry Dunn, confined to the hospital the last month, came for baseball.
The hospital and the Williamsburg Revolution 12-and-under and 11-and-under all-star teams surprised her with an exhibition contest because they don't know how many more times – if any – she will be able to watch her son Seth play. The melanoma she was diagnosed with in November is immedicable.
Sherry Dunn had a hunch something was in the works for Saturday, but didn’t quite know the magnitude.
Seth’s red-clad 12-and-under squad outlasted the blue 11s by a score of 8-4 and Seth, the starting pitcher, lined a pair of ground-rule doubles in the direction of those crape myrtles.
“I love watching him play,” Sherry Dunn said. “He took it a little easy today, but I love watching him pitch and play.”
Before the game, players and coaches from both teams presented the guest of honor, sitting draped in a baseball-print blanket amid loved ones, with different shades of roses before the 12s posed for a photo.
It may have been the most poignant moment of the event. For 12s coach Brent Whitaker, one of them was glancing in Sherry Dunn’s direction from his spot next to third base after Seth socked his base-hits. “Just looking over at her and her reaction,” he said. “I just got caught up in that moment, a little bit. It was quite an experience.”
At times, the crowd was bigger than what the Revs are used to. Plenty of employees or visitors wandered out of the hospital to glimpse the game. Some looked down out of the hospital windows onto the spectacle.
“I didn’t expect it to be that big,” Sherry’s husband Mike said. “I didn’t expect so many people to come out.”
Mike Dunn helped with the finishing touches Saturday morning by painting the field.
It was all organized in the last week, mostly just in the last few days.
Sentara Williamsburg President Dave Masterson and palliative care nurse Ruth Kaiser approached Don West, the hospital’s director of support operations, Thursday morning about putting together a ball field for Sherry Dunn.
With the help of Cooke Landscaping and the Spain Commercial construction company, West made it happen.
Initially, West contacted Spain to inquire about netting for the proposed backstop.
West said, “Mr. (Steve) Spain said, ‘What do you need it for?’ I told him and he said, ‘You’re not building anything because I’m building it for you. No cost.’ Everybody came together. The whole hospital came together. It’s from the heart.”
It was so extraordinary West wondered whether there may be more games like it in the future at the request of one of the 11-year-old players, Noah, who suggested the Revolution make it an annual event for cancer awareness.
That got the wheels spinning.
“If we do that, then I need to build a better backstop,” West said. “It will take a few more days. I’d like to see a scoreboard, and some benches.”
No matter her forbidding prognosis, Sherry Dunn will do everything in her power to make sure that wasn’t her last ballgame.
While the 11-year-old Revs used Saturday’s outing as a warmup for an afternoon matchup with a Richmond team, the 12s got in a final tune-up before an April 1 trip to Aberdeen, Maryland for the Ripken Experience tourney. It is one of the ultimate youth baseball destinations, set in a complex with youth-sized replicas of big league ballparks. The centerpiece is a mini-Oriole Park at Camden Yards.
The team has been raising money for the trip the last two months and coaches Whitaker and Bobby Wilson said the Dunn family was at the forefront of fundraising efforts.
“I’m going to try to go,” Sherry Dunn said. “If they let me go, I’m going to try to go.”
Mike Dunn struggled to find the words to describe what the day meant to his family.
“A whole lot,” he said. “To see her son play baseball… That’s all she wanted.”
Holtzman can be reached by phone at 757-298-5830.