.It was bottom of the second inning.
Hank Burzynski, 7, took charge as general manager of the Lake Michigan Credit Union West Michigan Whitecaps Ballpark.
On other days, he might be visiting Spectrum Health Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital for chemotherapy.
But tonight wasn’t about doctor appointments. This was the annual Kids Can Conquer baseball game, where nearly a dozen patients from the children’s hospital were appointed leadership positions for the night.
One young patient ran the score board. Another handled music. One served as bat boy. One even took over the Whitecap’s social media for the evening.
The kids were partnered with Whitecaps team members who normally handle these duties.
The event provided great fun for the kids, giving them an opportunity to get out of the hospital for some behind-the-scenes glimpses of cool careers in baseball.
Kids and families arrived early. They received some swag, too, including jerseys and personalized baseball cards.
Each patient was announced at the beginning of the game with the player introductions, right on the big screen. A few kids even got involved in throwing the first pitch.
“You see the kids everywhere—in the box, in the stands and on the field,” said Sarah Smith, endowed hospital teacher with the Dick and Linda Antonini Hospital School Program at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital. “They are literally running the ballpark. It’s really cute and they do a great job of making these kids feel special.”
The baseball cards often make it back to the hospital after the game, with staff and patients trying to collect them all from the celebrity kiddos involved in the evening’s events.
Kids run the show
Taylor Zeinstra, 12, handled announcements at the game.
“Announcing stuff and hearing my name on the PA system sounds fun,” she said, snacking on some ice cream. “You can’t go to a baseball game without dipping dots.”
On the PA system: “My partner up here is Taylor for the night. You’ll hear her voice throughout the game too,” said Michael Newell, the game’s announcer.
Newell has been at the job for 25 years, side by side with Whitecaps players.
“Hey, do you want to announce the next batter?” Newell asked Taylor.
Taylor agreed, but said she’d need to know how to pronounce the player’s last name.
“So you’ll just need to say, ‘Now batting.’ And say his name,” Newell said before pushing the button to give her access to a ballpark announcement.
“Now batting, Owen Caissie,” Taylor said.
She handled the big job with confidence and conviction, and even pointed out her family in the crowd.
JQ Edwards, 14, sat just a few seats down from Taylor. He managed music and audiovisuals for the stadium.
Elton John’s “Rocket Man” played in the background to pump up the crowd.
A leader at heart
Hank had landed his dream job it seemed. He carried a walkie-talkie and stayed in constant contact with his crew.
His mentor and friend, Jim Jarecki, vice president and general manager with the West Michigan Whitecaps, was at his side for the entire experience.
“Oh my gosh, this is going to be such an impactful moment for Hank,” Kristy Burzynski, Hank’s mom, said. “It’s very special that the hospital does this for these kids. They have been through so much. Hank has been telling everyone about this for weeks.”
“Is it halftime?” Hank asked.
Hank’s general manager position came with big responsibilities. He even gave a pep talk to the players prior to the game.
“I told the hitters they needed to hit the ball. Catchers, you need to catch the ball. And we’re going to play good today,” he said.
Jarecki, his mentor and friend, said this is what community and Minor League baseball is all about.
“I met Hank months ago,” Jarecki said. “I switched the word toughness to ‘Hankness’ right then and there.
“To see these kids run the ballpark and see the spirit in their eyes … it’s all about the enjoyment when we walked in. Hank told me he wants my job—and I said go for it.”
Hank headed downstairs to check in with guest services to make sure they were all set.
“This is where fans go if they have any questions,” Jarecki explained.
Hank checked in at the clubhouse, too, where players hang out before and after the game.
Hank walked in with Jarecki and noticed the space wasn’t quite up to snuff.
“What are you guys doing down here?” Hank asked. “Things could be cleaned up a bit.”
The staff quickly jumped to attention, but challenged Hank by asking if his bedroom was even kept this clean.
They took Hank into the equipment room and gifted him with a Major League baseball—the same ball the pros use. And a bat Whitecaps players would use.
Next up: the weight room, for some light lifting.
Hank did a bench press. Up and down, he completed 10 reps.
And finally, down to the dugout, where he checked on the batting lineup and met team members as they ran out on the field.
In the dugout he connected with Canaan Price, 8, bat boy for the evening.
“I was bringing bats back to where they were supposed to be and grabbing balls that were close to me,” Canaan said.
Canaan hung out with all the players, and he even got his baseball signed by all the coaches and players.
Hank finished the evening with hot dogs on the lawn, joined by his friend, Jarecki, and his parents.
“It’s just been such an amazing night,” Kristy said.