As the diamond at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington sat dormant under crisp winter skies on Jan. 12, 2010, Carson Leslie lost his three-year battle with brain cancer. Carson, who was a junior at Covenant, loved being at the ballpark to smell the fresh-cut grass and cheer on the Texas Rangers.
“Baseball is deep in my soul,” Carson wrote in his book Carry Me, which was published six days before he died. “I loved putting on the jersey, the long socks, the pants — the whole uniform. I loved sliding in the dirt, the smell of my glove and the anticipation of playing the game. I loved going up to the plate holding the bat in my hands and swinging it around before I actually took my stance. I was always first to bat.”
Last Saturday, which would have been Carson’s 21st birthday, a small group of teens battling cancer got to enjoy a Rangers game from a center-field suite, along with VIP treatment, which included a ride to the game on a limo bus. It was the third straight year the Carson Leslie Foundation, in conjunction with the Rangers and Premier Transportation, provided such an outing. Although the game is always planned around Carson’s birthday, this was the first year the excursion fell on the actual date.
“It really makes it better because it makes me not be balled up on my bed,” said Carson’s mom, Annette, executive director of the foundation. “We’re out here helping these kids instead.”
The teens got to experience the spoils of watching a game from high above the field as part of a huge crowd there to see the Rangers take on new division rival Houston.
The kids could either stay in the air-conditioning and watch the game on television, or they could go outside on the balcony and see it live, while enjoying all of the food and drinks they wanted.
“It’s been fun” said Jazmyn Polk, 14, who was diagnosed with cancer last August and was attending her first baseball game with her cousin, Shayla Dampier. “I’m not really a big baseball fan. I was going to sit outside, but it’s really hot.”
Carson was a multi-sport athlete at Covenant, which named its first permanent structure, an academic and athletic center, after him. Inside that center hangs Carson’s No. 3 football jersey, which is “actively retired.”
The number is bestowed upon students who demonstrate excellent character in athletics and display the values of the school.When Covenant won a state title in football last fall, Andrew McClain wore the No. 3.
“Carson would have loved this,” said Melissa Miller, Carson’s nurse at Children’s Medical Center. “He really liked being involved with other kids and letting people know specifically what teenagers battling cancer are going through. It can be really sad, because as much as you try to keep it professional, you can’t help but become attached. But I know what a difference it can make to have a nurse or doctor that really cares about [patients], so that helps a little bit.”
Even if for just a few hours, helping take their situations off their minds is huge for the teens.
“There was a kid I had never met before named Isaiah [Morea]. I was making small talk with him on the bus,” said Lauryn Shackelford, a children’s life assistant at Children’s Medical Center. “He was saying, ‘This is pretty cool. There are a lot of things about cancer that are terrible — people feel sorry for me and don’t know what to say. But there are kind of cool things about it. We have an opportunity to do this.’ It was pretty emotional. It’s really good to accommodate this experience.”
The Leslies hope to continue the tradition of a ballpark outing to keep Carson’s memory alive, while also helping those who are going through the same thing he did.
“We just want to lift their spirits up,” said Craig Leslie, Carson’s dad. “And, of course, it gives them something to look forward to besides feeling bad. We hope we do that. We really want to make sure we do a Rangers game because of the baseball tie-in.”