Baseball runs in Michael Vallery’s blood.
His dad played on a farm team for the Boston Red Sox. He pitched and played short stop on his high school team.
And he has passed his passion for the sport on to his boys, as easily and naturally as a ball tossed from father to son.
So it made sense that, while in hospice care for cancer, a night at the ballpark would be a sweet way for Vallery to spend time with his sons.
And that’s what happened, on this warm summer evening, as the West Michigan Whitecaps played Bowling Green at Fifth Third Ballpark in Comstock Park, Michigan.
Vallery sat in the shaded stands along the third baseline, between his sons, Bryan, 17, and Danny, 16. His son Sean, who is Bryan’s twin, could not attend.
“Nice pitch,” Vallery said, as the first inning began. “Right down the pipe.”
Bryan nodded and grinned. A pitcher on the Newaygo High School varsity team, he appreciates a good fast ball.
The idea for the outing came up as Vallery, 52, talked with Dawn Shank, a social worker for Spectrum Health Hospice. She learned about his connection to baseball—and sports.
A Boston native, Vallery is a die-hard fan of the Celtics, Patriots, Bruins and, especially, the Red Sox.
In 2002, he moved to Newaygo, Michigan, and that’s where his sons grew up.
He returned to Boston a few years ago and began treatment for rectal cancer, which spread to his liver and lungs. As his health declined, he moved back to West Michigan and got an apartment near his sons.
“I want to be with my kids,” he said. “They mean everything to me. So I moved out here to be with my kids.”
He began receiving care from Spectrum Health Hospice in early June.
Shank worked with Spectrum Health Foundation and Hospice staff to secure tickets to the game, which were donated by the Whitecaps, as well as funds for snacks and souvenirs.
“It was amazing,” Vallery said. “I wasn’t expecting that.”
The teens’ mother, Maureen Cardoza, agreed.
“I think it’s wonderful,” she said. “I thank everybody for making this happen.”
Growing up, Vallery played catch with his boys. They watched baseball on TV, though he didn’t get to see as much of the Red Sox as he liked on local TV.
Vallery spoke with pride of all three sons.
“They’re good kids,” he said. “They’re great kids.”
The trip to the Fifth Third Ballpark to see the Whitecaps, a class A affiliate of the Detroit Tigers, was a first for him. He was impressed by the stadium and the enthusiastic crowd. The boys smiled in agreement.
“It’s pretty fun,” Danny said. “I like being here with everybody.”
For Shank, seeing the outing come together was a gift, as well.
“This was a collaboration of many people,” she said. “I heard, ‘I love sports.’ And it turned into this amazing thing.
“I think that’s the coolest part about Spectrum Health Hospice. It is our blessing. It is an honor to be able to walk this journey with our patients.”
In the end, the game didn’t turn out well for the Whitecaps. Bowling Green won, 13-1.
But for Vallery, it was a victory just to put his health struggles on hold and share a night at the ballpark with his sons.
“I’ve had some good moments and some bad moments,” he said, watching the field. “This is a good moment.
“Just being with the kids is the main thing. That’s what it’s all about.”