Bautista calls dying fan to wish her happy birthday

MIKE STROBEL, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 1:18 AM ET

TORONTO - The home-run king and his dying fan have restored my faith in sports and life and the whole damn thing.

“Hello, Doris, it’s Jose Bautista,” says the slugger, down the line. “Happy birthday.”

Man, oh, man, Doris Rudy’s smile would clear the Green Monster at Fenway, and for five magic minutes her pain is gone.

“Thank you, thank you, thank you!” — a hoarse whisper above the morphine drip.

Doris Rudy is in extra innings.

On June 28, healthy and hard-working all her life, she awoke and could not climb a stair. They found cancer all through her and gave her three months.

Her world has shrunk to a palliative care bed at Kitchener’s Freeport Health Centre. Eight bouquets brighten her room, in every colour in God’s garden.

Three of her roomies have died.

Besides family and friends, one thing has kept Doris going. The Blue Jays — especially the mighty bat of Jose Bautista.

On good days, she watches them on her ceiling-mounted TV. On bad days, someone holds a speaker to her ear.

Doris turned 90 on Monday. A friend of mine on Manitoulin Island, Rachael Opolko, told me about her last week, while I was loafing at the cabin. Rachael’s mom, Cheryl, a nurse, is pals with Doris.

One call led to another and Paul Beeston, the Jays president, told Bautista about Doris.

Now, I can’t imagine Milton Bradley or Kenny Rogers calling a fan. Or Alex Rodriguez or Roger Clemens or Barry Bonds, unless Doris was a steroids dealer.

The sport that starred Ty Cobb, who beat up a fan who had no hands, is not over-stocked with nice guys.

But Jose Bautista is no Milton Bradley. Everyone says he’s all class. The real deal.

Sure enough, he calls Doris from Rattlesnake Point, during the Jays’ annual golf tourney.

“Thank you for being a fan at this time of your life,” Jose tells her, or something like that. The whole team appreciates it, he says.

“Keep hitting home runs,” she replies, but she’s already running out of steam. “I wish you...” Breath. “A home run....” Breath. “Every game.”

Tank’s empty, so someone holds the phone to her ear and Bautista says other comforting things, then good-bye.

“She was tickled pink. So were the nurses. We all were,” Cheryl tells me later. “What’s left in her life that she cares about? Her family and the Blue Jays.”

Nearby sit photos of Peter, her husband, who died eight years ago and son Harold, gone even longer. She and Peter were married 60 years. They managed an estate in Oakville, down by the lake. Peter was chauffeur and gardener. Doris cooked.

Now, there are in-laws and cousins and a life’s load of friends.

Chairs ring Doris’s hospital bed. Visitors gab about Bautista’s ankle or that new Canadian kid or the Rasmus trade.

(If I may paraphrase George Bell: Sign stealing? Kiss my purple butt.)

Julie Christie and Gordon Pinsent filmed Away From Her, the heart-breaking Alzheimer’s movie, in these halls.

There’s still some choice in the manner of going.

“To see Doris looking so sick, but still watching her Jays, is so touching,” says Cheryl, who dreamed up the birthday idea.

After the call, I tell Doris, whose Aug. 8 birthday I happen to share: “Maybe he’ll phone you next year, too.”

“Don’t think I’ll be here.” A touch of humour makes her whisper even drier.

For Doris, now, death is a home run.

“She’s not into self pity,” says Cheryl. “She’s lived all her life independently and now she can’t. She wants to join her husband and her son.”

When she does, I hope the sky is blue and the roof is open.

Touch ‘em all, Jose, you’ll never hit a bigger home run in your life.


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