Late before a game early in the season, Andrews was asked by former Jimmy Fund chairman Bill Koster to fill in for a teammate who came down with an injury, and spend some time with one of The Jimmy Fund’s 12-year-old patients. Andrews admits to being a bit “miffed” at the time, feeling he should be preparing for the game. However, he complied with the request, and that was the beginning of a relationship with the cancer-fighting charity that continues 46 years later.
“I talked to [the boy] a while, he was a great ballplayer,” recalled Andrews during the fifth inning of the Red Sox home opener. “He had sat out a year of Little League and was really looking forward to getting back next year. We talked for a while, took a picture, I wished him luck and he left. And then Bill Koster turned to me and said ‘I really appreciate you doing that, we just sent him home, there’s no more we can do for him. He’s not going to make it.’ That kind of gets your attention.”
One of the first things Andrews points to is just the sheer number of patients that The Jimmy Fund is now able to send home under better circumstances. When he began working with the organization after his retirement from baseball — Andrews spent eight seasons in Major League Baseball with the Red Sox, White Sox and Athletics — he estimates that Dana-Farber was able to “cure” about 50 percent of its patients. Nowadays, he estimates that number as something closer to 90 percent of people who are able to go home disease-free.
“If you look at the bottom line, when I started with The Jimmy Fund it was really kind of grass rootsy, not much money being generated,” said Andrews. “And now, today, there’s approximately $70 million a year that is raised under The Jimmy Fund name. And when you take that and say ‘What does that mean to Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in a year?’ without it they wouldn’t be Dana-Farber the way they are today.”
After being involved as a player, and then beginning part-time after his career, Andrews took over as chairman of The Jimmy Fund in 1984. In 2009, after 25 years at the helm of the charity, Andrews finally retired, though it wasn’t an easy decision. However, Andrews continues on as an honorary trustee, and on Monday participated in pregame ceremonies where Jimmy Fund patients threw out the first pitches.
“She actually threw it to Jon Lester,” Andrews said of Karen, the adult patient he accompanied to the mound on Monday. “So I said to her ‘You know Lester is a survivor.’ And she said ‘Oh, I know, he had the same thing I did.’ So they met, and Jon of course gave her a hug and a ball, and it was good.”
Obviously Lester himself is a shining example that Jimmy Fund patients can look toward, but Andrews says the Sox southpaw remains humble about his role. However, Andrews is unequivocal about not only the positive impact that athletes can make on patients, but the impact that meeting these patients can have on the ballplayers, too.
“The [players] that do get involved, and it’s a lot of them, they get as much out of it as the kids do,” said Andrews. “I’ve had so many of them tell me ‘I’m glad I came over here, I was in a slump, or I wasn’t pitching well, and now I go what am I worried about compared to these kids?’ And it kind of lifts them, too.”
Though he’s years removed from an active role with The Jimmy Fund, Andrews speaks with the conviction of someone who’s still very much emotionally involved. And for all the great strides the organization has made, it’s clear that it’s still the unwavering search for a cure for cancer that continues to drive Andrews and everyone else involved. But, on Monday, it was an opportunity to step back, enjoy some baseball, and reflect on just how far The Jimmy Fund has come over the years.
After 60 years of a partnership between The Jimmy Fund and the Red Sox, the spirit of cooperation between the two is still much the same as when Ted Williams dedicated himself to the cause.