Washington, Mo. – Drake Vollmer, 10, lived his baseball fantasy by throwing out a first pitch from the mound at Busch Stadium to a Cardinal’s player.
Drake, of Pacific, was one of three young patients invited by Mercy to throw out a first pitch to right fielder Randal Grichuk before the Cardinals played the Milwaukee Brewers April 30 while the team helped Mercy celebrate Day of the Child. Mercy’s Day of the Child celebrates its youngest patients and honors the health care providers who treat them.
“It was awesome,” said Drake, a baseball fan who practiced his pitching before the game. His mom, Angie Vollmer said when he heard he was going to the game and what he was going to do, he was excited. The morning of the game, he was overcome with nerves. He wasn’t sure he could do it, but as the hour neared, he was determined to throw from the mound.
“He’s usually laid back and shy, and he loves to watch the Cardinals. We go to games, but this would be his first time on the field,” Vollmer said. “When he found out he was going, he was telling all his friends.”
About 20 family members and friends went to the game to cheer him on as well as their hometown ballplayers. But it was not an easy path to Busch Stadium. Drake was diagnosed with a Wilm’s kidney tumor when he was 3.
“I had never in my life known someone with cancer,” said Vollmer, whose family is still affected by the experience. “As a parent, I thought I was losing my son.”
“It all happened so fast. It was the Thursday before Christmas, we were in the hospital until Christmas Eve. We wanted to be home for Christmas and for him to be OK,” she said. “There was a lot of praying going on, and a lot of blessings going on.”
After Drake’s kidney was removed, he went through 19 grueling weeks of chemotherapy. “On chemo days, Fridays, those were his best times. A few hours right after chemo. We would go to the St. Louis Zoo. Other than that, we stayed in the house. We played video games. Our entire focus was keeping him healthy and keeping his surroundings clean while his immune system was compromised by chemo.”
The blessings and prayers have stayed with Drake and his family – Dad David, sister Ali, and his grandparents – because he’s been cancer free since 2008. What remains is a mindfulness about what could have been and a heightened awareness about cancer risks.
“Although the cancer is gone, we’ve struggled with some limitations on what Drake can do with one kidney and some of the emotional and behavioral aspects of having had cancer,” said Mercy Clinic pediatrician Gretchen Kluesner, MD.
Dr. Kluesner helped get Drake to Busch Stadium and joined them at the game. “I really wanted to see Drake at this event because he loves baseball,” she said. “I thought something this special would give him and his family something really positive to experience together and carry with them.”
After Drake threw the pitch, he and his family stayed to watch the game. The Cardinals won 9-3, a great day for Cardinals fans. But still, “Pitching was my favorite part of the day,” said Drake.
The kids received a league baseball, signed by Grichuk, to keep as a memento. Drake took his ball to school to share with his classmates at Zitzman Elementary and his mom plans to make a shadow box with the ball, game tickets and photos.
“He’s still in awe,” said Vollmer.