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Angels grant a wish for boy with cancer

A hospice team asked Chris Corbin what he wanted to do for his 12th birthday. He said he wanted to see the Angels play and meet the players.
/ Source: The Orange County Register

Chris Corbin lifted himself from his wheelchair on the Angel Stadium warning track. He used his crutches to get across the grass. He got a boost from his older brother, hooked his fingers into the chain-linked fencing of the backstop and hung on tightly.

The 12-year-old could see his Angels right there, dressed in red pre-game warmups, whipping bats through air, cracking baseballs and sending sizzling shots deep into the outfield.  

Chris was close enough to smell that Angels slugger Kendrys Morales was chomping on bubble gum.

This is so cool, the former Upland Little Leaguer kept saying on this recent day the he got his wish to meet the Angels.

Everyone tried to make this the best day of his young life, which, sadly, has been overtaken for the past two years by bone cancer.

His mother, Silvia Lopez, stood nearby, wrestling with emotions, trying to stay happy and positive for these fleeting moments while fighting off the painful reality that her youngest child's condition is terminal.

His brother, Darrell Clark, 20, and sister, Shannay Johnson, 24, watched Chris, one taking photos, the other holding the crutches he has needed since his cancer-ridden femur was amputated in a 9 ½-hour surgery on Feb. 28, 2011.

His best friend, Luis Sandoval, 11, waited beside him, there to catch him in case he fell from his perch. But he was mostly at Chris' side because they were having fun watching the game they love and used to be able to play together like there was no tomorrow.

Nobody here thought about tomorrow. They were like the major leaguers, taking the one-day-at-a-time mindset that's more from necessity than cliché.

Chris and Luis, both left-handed pitchers, used to be teammates on their Upland Little League teams. They grew up together since Chris started T-ball for his Little League Dodgers at age 5, then moved up to Minors with the Little League Angels and Cubs.

Chris was an All-Star pitcher and outfielder. He played travel ball and decorated his bedroom with trophies, medals, tournament banners and Dodgers and Angels memorabilia.

He had big-league dreams.

His best memory was striking out 13 consecutive batters in a game, and he excitedly recalled that day while staying up late to watch Angels right-hander Jered Weaver hurl a no-hitter against the Minnesota Twins on May 2.

"Chris loves baseball," his mother said. "He has such a passion for baseball and life. He has such a positive, courageous spirit, even with everything going on."

Chris slid closer to his mother, grabbed her hand and leaned against her heart whenever he felt sadness welling. She tried to be as strong as her son, for her son.

It was in November 2010 that she started to notice his slight limp when he walked. The hitch in his step became more obvious as he started to complain of pain. Then one night, he fell in the shower, she ran to him, cradled him like an infant and carried him to her bed.

They went to the doctor for X-rays, which didn't reveal any fractures in his right leg. Tests at San Antonio Community Hospital in Upland were inconclusive, leading doctors to refer them to Children's Hospital in Los Angeles for further examination.

Two days spent undergoing a CT scan, MRI and a biopsy lead to the Dec. 3, 2010 diagnosis Silvia Lopez remembers as "Yes, it's cancer."

A full-body bone scan revealed tumors in his lungs. Lopez, whose mother died of Hodgkin's lymphoma when she was 18, knew they were in for a fight.

Chemotherapy began Dec. 10, 2010, pulling Chris out of fifth grade at Citrus Elementary for intense five-night, six-day hospital stays through July 3, 2011. Even with the aggressive treatment, the femur removal and a clinical drug trial from Sept. 2011 through Jan. 12, 2012, the cancer remained in his chest.

"Chris knows everything that's going on," said his mother who had to quit work to give him full-time care. "It's hard but I tell him the truth."

On April 9, "we got the really bad news," she said. "There was nothing more medicine could do. It's harder now but we're still fighting."

A social worker and representative from the Southern California Hospice Foundation visited the family at their Upland home and asked if Chris wanted to do something special for his 12th birthday, which was on April 20.

"Go to baseball game and meet the players," Chris told the hospice team.

The Dodgers welcomed Chris and his family for a recent visit. The Angels opened the ballpark to Chris on May 4 before the Angels' game against the Toronto Blue Jays.

When Chris and his family arrived three hours before the first pitch, they pretended to play baseball on the brick diamond in front of Angel Stadium's Homeplate Gate. Luis winded up for a fastball, Chris swung, and his brother, Darrell, pushed Chris in his wheelchair around the bases for a dream home run.

"I love this game," said Chris, wearing the authentic white home jersey that the Angels gave him with "Corbin" embroidered between the shoulder blades.

Chris also pulled a new fitted Angels red ballcap over his head -- not to hide his head left bald because of the cancer treatment but because that's what real ballplayers wear onto the field.

"I'm so excited to be here," he said. "This is so cool."

He practically leaped from his wheelchair when his brother pushed him from darkness of the left field tunnel into the sunshine of the outfield. He moved along the warning track and stopped in front of the Angels' dugout where the players he had only seen on TV came out to meet him.

Angels catcher Chris Iannetta and outfielder Mike Trout were the first to emerge. They signed his ballcap, jersey, miniature bat and official baseball. Iannetta gave Chris a thumbs up. Chris eagerly returned the gesture.

"What's going on man? I'm Jered," said the shaggy haired, 6-foot-7 All-Star Weaver, bending over find Chris' eyes beneath the ballcap's bill.

"So I hear you're a pitcher too. You got that crossfire?"

Chris nodded and congratulated Weaver on his no-hitter. Then he found himself suddenly distracted and dwarfed by a 6-foot-4, 225-pound heavy hitter.

"Hi, I'm Mark," said Angels slugger Mark Trumbo, his right hand covering Chris' hand the way a mitt would a baseball.

"And I'm Peter," said Angels center fielder Peter Bourjos, offering a handshake before piling into a family photo.

Chris enjoyed seeing the players prepare. He watched batting practice from the backstop, hitting coach Mickey Hatcher on his left.

He saw Gold Glove shortstop Erick Aybar, left fielder Vernon Wells, slugger Morales and infielder Alberto Callaspo stand in a circle with their gloves on, flipping, tapping and slinging the baseball around for several minutes of Hot Potato until it tumbled to the grass and everyone laughed. Even Chris.

Surprises kept jogging over to see him, sign autographs and take pictures. Up came All-Star second baseman Howie Kendrick, backup catcher Bobby Wilson, pitching coach Mike Butcher and bench coach Rob Picciolo, who gave Chris a scuffed-up Rawlings game ball.

Angels manager Mike Scioscia approached and asked Chris whether he would be available to play that night. Angels starting left-hander C.J. Wilson told Chris what it was like to pitch to former Dodger slugger Manny Ramirez.

Four-time All-Star right fielder Torii Hunter said, "Ask me anything!" and enjoyed talking to Chris so much the veteran kept coming back during warmups to continue the visit.

"I'll be back," said Hunter, leaving to take his cuts in batting practice and returning minutes later, breathlessly announcing, "Okay, I'm back."

Nine-time All-Star Albert Pujols, the Angel whom Chris most wanted to meet, stood by the dugout railing, welcoming the youngster closer.

Chris turned shy in the company of his hero, smiling and giggling, his front teeth biting his bottom lip. He leaned forward, showing the No. 5 on his Angels jersey to No. 5 on the Angels.

"Hello, Chris," said Pujols, kneeling down to shake hands and talk eye to eye, ballplayer to ballplayer. "I hear you like baseball. Me too."

Chris, wide-eyed and tongue-tied, quickly turned to his pal, Luis, with an I-can't-believe-this look.

Two hours and a hot dog later, from his Terrace 211 seats behind the Angels dugout, Chris was still smiling about having met the Angels.

His hat and jersey were covered in Sharpie signatures. His friend, Luis, sat next to him. The next inning was about to begin, and Chris clapped for the team that made him feel at home.

"This is so cool," he said. "I'm having the best day."

One day at a time.