Chapter Twenty Three

I went out for the baseball team and was accepted. I was an outfielder. We practiced every afternoon after school.

I was far too weak to throw a ball all the way to the plate, but I could at least throw it to the second baseman, Marty Aiken, who then threw it to another base or home.

I didn’t stick out that much, because at our age strength is an issue in baseball. Few players in grade school can throw from third to first. Almost no outfielders can throw from the outfield to the plate.

I got an incredible rush from being outdoors, from exercise. The battle against the leukemia had completely precluded any kind of physical exertion, not only because I was so weak, but because of the risk of hemorrhage. The disease not only cuts you off from other people, it cuts you off from your own body. You’re so weak that you can’t do anything spontaneously. Your body feels like a foreign object hurtling toward death, with you as the helpless passenger.

One day I hit a single, went to second base on a walk, stole third base, and stole home when the third baseman bobbled a ground ball. My teammates converged on me and threw their arms around me. As I returned their high fives, I remembered Dr. Singh and my first weeks as a leukemia patient.

As I went to the bench I realized how far I had come. I was swinging the bat, I was running the bases. I began to cautiously hope I might end up cured.  If my body could feel this good, couldn’t I somehow beat the cancer after all?

Every week I got stronger. My parents remarked on it. My Dad played catch with me in the back yard, and hit grounders to me with a fungo bat. He took me out to the driving range and showed me how to swing a golf club. “You’re a natural,” he said. “You’ll be the next Phil Mickelson.”

I started running in my spare time. Around the block, to the park, around the pond and back home. I couldn’t do this unsupervised, so Pam kept an eye on me from a distance.

One day when I returned to the bench where she was sitting, I saw tears in her eyes.

I pointed to my eyes and asked why.

“Because of you, Max,” she said. “Because of all you’ve been through and all you’ve accomplished. You’re such a courageous boy. But I wish none of this had ever happened to you.”

I put my arm around her. I touched her face. This made her cry harder.

“Here you are, comforting me,” she said. “What a crazy world this is.”

We had a game against another school, and all my relatives were there. I didn’t get any hits, but I drove in two runs, one with an infield single and another with a long fly ball which drew loud applause from the crowd.

At the end of the game we shook hands with the players from the other team and returned to our dugout. To my relief nobody paid any particular attention to me. The write-up in the local paper simply said, “Max Robinson, FO, IBH, 2 RBI.”

The next day, running toward the fence to catch a fly ball, I collapsed. When the coach got to me I was unconscious.

I was taken immediately to the hospital and then into the isolation ward. They had to give me oxygen to get me breathing properly again. They took blood and did a lot of tests.

The results didn’t come back until the next day. I had suffered a “transient cerebral hypoxia,” which means a temporary lack of oxygen supply to the brain.

The chief resident was optimistic. “It’s no wonder,” he told my parents. “after being deprived of sufficient oxygen for so many months, Max just overdid it a little. But he’s going to be fine. We’re going to give him a transfusion as a precaution, but he can go back to school.”

The fatal numbers, hemoglobin and platelets, were still in the normal range. I was shaken, but I bounced back quickly as soon as I got home.