MUKILTEO — With the chance to choose the trip of a lifetime, 16-year-old Nathan McCarty of Mukilteo instead decided to share his dream with others.
Likewise, the leukemia-stricken boy wanted something that will live on — just as he expects to.
Approached by Make-A-Wish Washington, which grants wishes to children with life-threatening medical conditions, McCarty turned down the usual request for a fabulous family vacation and instead asked for something closer to his heart. Since he loves baseball more than almost anything, his dream was the renovation of the field at Kamiak High School.
“I really wanted something to be proud of,” explained McCarty, a Kamiak junior. “When I’m 20, 30 or 40 years old, I want to be able to come back, look at that field, and know that I had something to do with it.
“I want the community to be proud of it, too. I want my team to be proud of it and I want my school to be proud of it. I want everyone in Mukilteo to be proud of what we have.”
The project will add outfield fence windscreens (with Nathan’s number No. 11 on a baseball graphic), privacy screens for the home and visitor dugouts, home plate and pitcher’s mound covers, and larger bleachers for the visiting fans.
The work project takes place today, beginning at 10 a.m., and includes Kamiak players and parents, plus volunteers from Make-A-Wish Washington. In addition, players and supporters from the Glacier Peak and Newport (Bellevue) teams have generously offered to help.
Upon completion, the new field “is going to sparkle,” Kamiak coach Steve Merkley said. “It’s going to look real professional, like a minor league baseball park.”
Formal dedication is 3 p.m. Monday, prior to a 4 p.m. game between Kamiak and cross-district rival Mariner.
The new field is something McCarty envisioned during the early months of his treatment for acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL). He was diagnosed in October of 2011 and missed the rest of the Kamiak school year while undergoing aggressive chemotherapy sessions at Seattle Children’s Hospital.
Having come through the most difficult months of treatment well, he is now in what doctors call the maintenance phase, which requires only periodic hospital visits. McCarty, who has returned to school part-time and to the baseball team (he has played sparingly, due in part to the toll of his treatments), expects to finish chemotherapy in January of 2015 and then, barring the return of ALL, get on with his life.
“On the scale of all kids, he’s on the low end (in terms of overall health),” said Shannon McCarty, his mother. “But on the scale of kids who are sick, he’s actually doing very well.”
And one reason for the upbeat prognosis, Nathan McCarty insists, has been the support and encouragement of friends. When he was out of school from October to June of his sophomore year, dozens of Kamiak friends — many of them baseball players — made regular afternoon visits to his home.
“They’d come over and hang out with me, and they’d stay for hours,” he said. “Most of the time my mom had to cook dinner for them, but it was great for me. And that’s one of the reasons I chose this wish, because of their support.”
“We’re obviously really proud of him,” David McCarty, Nathan’s father, said. “And we’re equally grateful to all of his friends and the community (for their kindnesses).”
Of course, not everyone understood his Make-A-Wish decision, or at least not right away.
“I used to say to him, ‘Oh, Nate, let’s go Italy. You like pasta. How about Italy?’” Shannon McCarty said with a laugh. “We had lots of conversations like that. But from the get-go this is really what he was interested in doing.”
Even Make-A-Wish Washington representatives “tried to get him to brainstorm about what else he could do, but he kept circling back to this,” she added. “And I think it’s because the baseball field is where he’s the happiest. It’s where he can feel like he doesn’t have cancer. He feels normal there, and I really think that had a lot to do with it.”
Like a lot of people, Merkley was caught off guard by Nathan McCarty’s idea.
“When he first asked me if he could do something for the field, I was shocked,” Merkley said. “I said, ‘Really? You can go anywhere in the world you want.’ ? It’s amazing. It’s real selflessness that he would do this.”
Nathan McCarty is looking forward to Monday’s ceremony, though he knows “it’s going to be pretty emotional. I need to go up to every single person and thank them for coming, and I don’t know how I’m going to keep it together.”
But perhaps his bigger wish is still a year away. Because by next baseball season he will be that much closer to the end of his treatment and that much closer to being pronounced cancer free. He should be stronger, healthier and better able to do the one thing he loves best — play baseball.
“I just want to be out there,” Nathan McCarty said. “I just want to be with the guys and having fun.”