KATIE AND I spent a lot of time playing together. The earliest memories I have of Katie were playing at her house while my mom got her hair styled by Katie's mom. Around age 7, I ended up playing baseball with her dad as my coach. Of course, Katie was on the team as well, and Coach Frank treated her the same way he treated everyone else. She was always the most energetic ballplayer, but she could be intense on occasion; I wouldn't be the first to call her a firecracker. However, regardless of the outcome of a day's ballgame, she was always happy to be with her friends -- the team.
I first learned there was something wrong with Katie when my mom told me she had collapsed and was in the hospital. I was barely 12 at the time. We learned later that she had a rare form of brain cancer. I talked to Katie on the phone, and it was clear she only saw chemotherapy treatment as a bump in the road. She was a confident girl, even in the face of adversity.
Katie's wish was to bring her old team -- some of her closest friends -- back together to watch a Seattle Mariners' baseball game. The wish was simple, and for Katie it was perfect because it combined the two things she loved: her friends and baseball. I was ecstatic when I learned I was going to see all of my friends again, but moreover, I would get to see Katie. Everything else was just icing on the cake.
On Katie's wish day, my former teammates gathered in the outfield at Safeco Field. They were told I would not be able to attend because I had moved to Franklin, Tennessee, the same year Katie and her family moved to eastern Oregon. Except on that day, I was actually standing behind the center-field wall. As the announcer told my friends there was a surprise waiting for them, the wall opened and I ran to Katie. The most memorable part of the entire day came as Katie and I were hugging. She couldn't believe that I was actually in front of her, which prompted me to repeatedly tell her, "I'm here! I'm here!"
The rest of the day is summed up in the original video segment of her Wish. The next day, however, would be the last time I saw her as we played catch near her hotel. True to our nature, we got into a small competition of "who can throw harder" while tossing the ball around. It makes me happy that my last moments with her were baseball-related.
My mother told me of Katie's death when she picked me up from school in the car almost a year later. The reality of her death didn't settle in until a couple of weeks later while I was lying in bed and finally came to terms that my best friend had passed. Those who have felt a similar pain know that realization is not fun.
I used to only be able to look at Katie's Wish from a child's perspective. It used to be difficult for me to understand the importance of Katie's Make-A-Wish experience in the context of everything else going on in her life at the time. As I've grown older, I've realized that being able to forget about illness for a day to just have fun is a priceless experience for a child and their family.
Katie, you will always be my best friend.