Sports, plenty good on the days they offer such metaphorical richness, become plenty bad all the other times when we forget they're for win or lose, not life or death.
Which is why the public address announcer proved that in brevity there is poetry Wednesday, framing the annual "Play 4 The Cure" Day with the words, "life is precious."
And then an entertaining high school softball game followed, Waterford and Stonington both wearing pink in honor of the day's theme, a pink that reminds us all the necessity of having a deeper sense of obligation to things that are greater than our own self-interest.
"They did something better today," Stonington coach Ann-Marie Houle said, following the third "Play 4 The Cure" game, a fundraiser to fight the better fight against cancer. "They raised money and they raised awareness."
This was Houle's brainchild, originally to honor the memory of Lisa Wentz-Day, the Stonington grad who died of cancer 22 years ago this year. But there was so much more. Houle only needed to look to the other dugout at Waterford coach Liz Sutman, whose family still endures cancer's tentacles.
Sutman is part of the region's first family of sports. She is a Walker. Mike, Matt, Andy, Pete and Liz. Five siblings, 5,000 sports stories. And while the Lancers were beating Stonington 2-0 in nine innings, their hearts were at a hospital in New Jersey, where Sutman's niece, Marissa Walker, 12, a cancer survivor, underwent more surgery Tuesday.
Here is Marissa's story:
She was diagnosed with Osteosarcoma, a bone cancer, in February, 2009. She was 9. After chemotherapy at Yale, as if chemotherapy isn't horrific enough, Kari and Pete Walker, Marissa's parents, were given a diagnosis: Doctors wanted to take her leg.
Not an option.
That's when Pete, a former major leaguer, began research. He discovered through St. Jude Hospital in Tennessee the possibility of an innovative surgery. It was performed in New Jersey in late April of 2008. Essentially, doctors inserted an expandable prosthetic - titanium rods - in her leg that would lengthen as Marissa grows.
"Every few months they magnetically extended to match her growth. It's really cutting edge," Sutman said Wednesday. "They're learning as they go. But there was a piece that got loose and caused Marissa a lot of pain. She was on crutches."
Replacing the piece couldn't happen until approval from the Food and Drug Administration. Marissa's uncle, Andy, (also her sixth-grade teacher at Clark Lane) proudly reported Wednesday that Marissa wrote the letter to the FDA herself.
The surgery was finally approved last Thursday.
Marissa had surgery Tuesday.
"She is a fighter," Liz Sutman said. "She has a long road of recovery ahead of her."
Sutman said her niece had "an uncomfortable" night on Tuesday.
Then Sutman's voice began to teeter.
"Marissa wants to play softball," her aunt said. "I want her to play. I hope some day she'll be able to. Nothing would more incredible than to have her play for me. Before the game, I said to girls, 'This is your chance. You get to do this. Let's make it worthwhile.' (Senior) Alyssa Hancock said, 'let's do this for Marissa.'"
Stonington's players, meanwhile, raised $400 during lunch alone this week. The money goes to a scholarship fund in Wentz-Day's name.
"It's a good reminder," Houle said. "Cancer's so prevalent in every one of these kids' lives. It's good for them to know that this is a game. People do a lot more than this every day and those are the people you should applaud. I lost my sister to cancer. It's everywhere."
So think a positive thought for Marissa Walker today, wherever you are, wherever you go. Raise a glass to a friend or family member who has beaten cancer or to the memory of someone who did not. And make sure you let the kids in Stonington and Waterford know that it wasn't just a game they played Wednesday. They did something better, as Houle said.
They took their own swing at beating cancer.
This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro.