MUKILTEO — Renovating the field at Kamiak High School was Nathan McCarty’s Make-A-Wish wish.
Of course, the chance to play baseball on a beautiful afternoon, to get a hit and score a run, and to help Kamiak beat cross-district rival Mariner simply made an already great day even better for McCarty.
Recalling the day he was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, McCarty said, “Oct. 13, 2011 was probably the worst day of my life. But this is the complete opposite. This is one of the best days of my life, and it’s one I’ll remember for the rest of my life.”
When Make-A-Wish Washington approached McCarty, a 16-year-old Kamiak junior, with the offer of a special gift, he dismissed the suggestion of taking his family on a memorable vacation trip. What he really wanted, he said, was to have his high school baseball field improved.
His idea follows a similar wish by former South Whidbey High School baseball player Colton Wilson, who had the same request in 2007.
On Sunday, a crew of some 200-300 people went to work at Kamiak, and on Monday their efforts were on display for the Knights’ final regular-season home game.
There are new wind screens on the fences down the foul lines and across the outfield, new padding behind home plate, new screens enclosing the two dugouts, larger bleachers for the visiting team, and new rain covers for home plate and the pitcher’s mound.
“It’s exactly what I wanted to see,” McCarty said. “It looks absolutely perfect. I’d say this is one of the best fields in Wesco, and probably in the Northwest.”
Before the game, there was a ceremony emceed by former Seattle Mariners catcher Dan Wilson. Shannon McCarty, Nathan’s mother, recalled for the crowd those dark moments back in 2011 when her son’s strange symptoms were finally and shockingly identified.
“It was suddenly something much more serious than we thought,” she said. “Those days were scary. … It was tough, but we’ve made it a long way.”
Nathan McCarty is roughly halfway through chemotherapy treatments that will continue until January of 2015. Those sessions are difficult, said David McCarty, Nathan’s father, “but he is really determined. The way he plays baseball is the way (he has faced treatment).”
In addition to Wilson, there were other special guests on hand. McCarty is a University of Washington fan, so Make-A-Wish arranged a visit by two Huskies — one past, one present. Former UW basketball player Donald Watts and Austin Sefarian-Jenkins, the starting tight end on the UW football team, both addressed the crowd, and Sefarian-Jenkins made sure Nathan knew that “we are not the superstars today. You are.”
And Sefarian-Jenkins had another surprise, too. “He gave me his phone number,” Nathan McCarty said with a grin of disbelief. “I have it in my phone right now, which is crazy.”
Kamiak coach Steve Merkley made sure to have McCarty in the starting lineup as the designated hitter. He came close to a hit in his first at bat with a sharp line drive, but unfortunately it was right to Mariner’s third baseman.
McCarty popped out to first base in his second at bat, but in the fifth he bounced a sharp ground ball up the middle. Mariner’s shortstop made a diving stop, but there was no chance for a throw and McCarty had an infield single.
He took second on another single, moved to third on a balk and scored Kamiak’s sixth of seven runs on an infield out. The final score was 7-1.
“It was a perfect day,” Merkley said. “It couldn’t have been any better.”
As he watched McCarty at different times in the afternoon, “he was just happy,” the coach added. “You could see it on his face. He was a happy kid and I’m happy for him.”
For all of Tuesday’s joy, there are still uncertain days ahead. Nathan McCarty will continue his chemotherapy for another 18 months and then hope for a clean bill of health. Short of that, his next step could be a bone marrow transplant.
But the prospect of bad news seemed very far away on a truly magical day at Kamiak High School. Under blue sunlit skies, playing the game he loves, and surrounded by hundreds of people who love him, nothing less than a perfect outcome seemed possible.
“This was a day when you don’t have to think about what (illness) you have,” Nathan McCarty said. “It was a day to just get back to my normal life and have some fun with my friends and the whole Mukilteo community.”
At Kamiak H.S.
Mariner 001 000 0—1 4 3
Kamiak 400 120 x—7 8 0
Steen, Angelos (6) and Smith. Austin Hansen, KeVaughn Escobar-Umayam (2), Brandon Gustafson (3), Brett Ludeman (5), Bryson Riker (7) and Wilson Kessel. WP—Hansen. LP—Steen. 2B—Andy Crosby (K) 2, McMillan (K). Records—Mariner 1-12 league, 1-17 overall. Kamiak 9-5, 11-7.