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The Champ

Kevin Eadie, 11, a batboy for the Peninsula Pilots since 2002, suffers from Niemann-Pick Type C, a fatal disease that affects speech, balance and cognitive abilities.
Kevin Eadie, 11, a batboy for the Peninsula Pilots since 2002, suffers from Niemann-Pick Type C, a fatal disease that affects speech, balance and cognitive abilities. (By Lisa Billings For The Washington Post)

"I've always felt that somehow Kevin was going to get into that window where we're able to save his life, because Kevin is a special guy," Brenda, 47, says. "I have to believe that."

Bob, 53, heard that there was no cure for his son's condition and began what he calls a "long-term grieving process." The five-year marriage had already been strained; within four months of Kevin's diagnosis his parents were separated. Brenda moved with Kevin from their home in Vermont to the Virginia peninsula where she had grown up. Bob visited, took Kevin fishing, to Busch Gardens, to Norfolk Tides games. Eventually, he, too, moved south, to Williamsburg. He sees Kevin two weekends a month. He anticipates a day when Kevin needs long-term, round-the-clock care. He calls himself a realist. He knows that his son is going to die.

"I don't blame Brenda or any mom for trying to reach out and do anything you can to try and help these children," Bob says. "Because there isn't a cure . . . I feel she's kind of reaching out for what she wants to see. She's grasping at straws and wishing for something to happen that won't."

As for Kevin -- who does not really understand what is happening to him, and likely never will, given that his cognitive function declines as well -- it's harder to assess how he copes with the situation. He rarely, if ever, talks about his physical condition. His parents know only this: Kevin's path through this crisis led him here, to the dugout at War Memorial Stadium in Hampton.

* * *

Kevin steps away from his walker and stands in a line with the players as the national anthem begins. It's a sticky night in the middle of July, the team from the Outer Banks in town. Just for a moment, he wobbles, and a hand quickly reaches out, clutches a fistful of his white jersey and keeps him from falling.

"Okay, buddy?" the man says.

Four years ago, a Hampton local named Henry Morgan bought the Peninsula Pilots, a Coastal Carolina League team made up of college ballplayers looking to improve their games -- and maybe impress a scout -- during the summer. It's the kind of league where fans win pancake breakfasts and spaghetti dinners just for attending, where foul balls occasionally dent car hoods in the parking lot and the local kids get to run the bases after every game.

Three years ago, Brenda walked into the Pilots' offices because she'd heard that the team would let her sell tickets to the game and donate some of the profits to charity. Kevin, then 8, came with her.

Morgan fell for Kevin from the start. He listened to Brenda's plea, joshed a little with Kevin, talked baseball. And Kevin became his batboy. Morgan will tell you he has two kids and four grandkids -- and Kevin. At the park, he is often Kevin's shadow. In the off-season, they get together, go to local college baseball games, talk on the phone. Kevin will call, ask about the roster: How is Joey Roenker doing? How is Jimmy Toms doing? What teams are we going to play next year? Who is coming back?

"He grabbed onto my heart with both hands and he hasn't let go," Morgan says.

It used to be that the local kids took turns at being the Pilots' batboy or batgirl. The first year, Kevin had help from an older kid, but by the second season he was doing it on his own. Brenda has a video of him from those days, his limbs so much looser than they are now, his legs easily loping to the plate.

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