FAITHFUL FAN | Holliday may be gone but he leaves a legacy in St. Louis

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In a few days, former St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Matt Holliday will report to spring training for his new team, the New York Yankees. Infielder Matt Carpenter will do the same for the St. Louis Cardinals.

The two Matts are forever linked by their love for the children at SSM Health Cardinal Glennon Children's Hospital. Carpenter is taking over Holliday's role as chairman of the Homers for Health Program.

Since Holliday and his wife, Leslee Holliday, began Homers for Health in 2012, more than $3.7 million has been raised for the patients and families of the Catholic hospital. Not since the late Stan Musial got involved in the start of Cardinal Glennon has any athlete had such an impact on the hospital.

Last month, Cardinals fans gathered at the Cardinals Winter Warmup, an offseason preview of the upcoming team that raises money for the Cardinals' charity, Cardinals Care. The annual Holliday's Heroes dinner was held on the last night of the Winter Warmup. Cardinals fans applauded loudly for Holliday at the dinner celebrating donors and sponsors for Homers for Health. Also attending was Cardinals reliever Trevor Rosenthal, who, with pitcher Adam Wainwright, leads K's For Kids, an offshoot of the Homers program.

Cardinals broadcaster John Rooney praised the ballplayers for their involvement with Cardinal Glennon. Rooney said that "these kids have received so much from the players, but these players also have received so much from the kids."

The Hollidays, he said, "could have stayed on the sidelines, but they didn't." In fact, Rooney said, they became immersed in the lives of the children.

Matt Holliday choked up, tears trickling down his face, and spoke only briefly, for the most part letting Leslee explain their thanks and tell how hard it is to leave the hospital patients and families. In a twist, the Hollidays were presented with a shadowbox aligned with seven baseballs, each signed by seven patients they had gotten to know and love. Leslee said the reason she and her husband are so passionate about the program is because of how the patients and their families have strengthened their Christian faith. She didn't want to meet the patients at first, preferring to just stay in the background. But once she did, her heart opened up to them.

Several patients told of how they've been touched by the Hollidays and felt God's presence in their lives because of the caring provided by them and the hospital staff. Maggie Bohannan, a 16-year-old cancer survivor, surprised the Hollidays by announcing that a wing is being named in their honor in the fourth-floor inpatient cancer unit. Maggie was one of the first patients Holliday connected with on a hospital visit in 2011, just before he and his wife launched Homers for Health. They've formed a friendship with her and several other patients, texting on a regular basis, surprising them with birthday gifts and offering tickets to Cardinals games.

Carlei Huff, another patient treated for cancer whose story was profiled in St. Louis Catholic magazine, hugged the Hollidays and thanked them for making her feel she's not alone in her journey.

The other Matt — Carpenter — will continue the Homers for Health program's legacy. But it's the gifts of so many people in the community that make it a success.

Kenny is a staff writer for the Review and a member of St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Oakville. 

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