BOSTON -- Ballplayers were paired with cancer patients, standing in a straight line across the infield from third base to first base. More players lined up across from them, in an imaginary line through home plate.
NESN play-by-play man Don Orsillo gave the signal over the public address system and baseballs started soaring through the air.
The ceremonial first pitch at Fenway Park on Monday was a special one.
Celebrating 60 years of the Jimmy Fund, the Red Sox welcomed more than 150 patients, family members and medical personnel onto the field for opening ceremonies, while many sung the national anthem before shaking players' hands and collecting autographs.
Mike Andrews has a theory: Baseball players can get just as much out of these interactions as the patients can.
"I always tell them, 'You have no idea how much you mean to them,'" said Andrews, the former Red Sox second baseman and chairman of the Jimmy Fund for more than 25 years before stepping down in 2009. "Unfortunately, a lot of guys don't get involved that much until they're not playing anymore. And then it doesn't have the impact.
"The ones that do get involved, and there's a lot of them, they get as much out of it as the kids do. I've had so many of them tell me, 'Gee, I'm glad I came over here, I was bummed out in a slump. I hadn't been pitching well. And now it's like what am I worried about, compared to these kids?'
"And it kind of lifts [the players] at the same time."
The Jimmy Fund has raised more than $70 million for cancer research, and Andrews reports that that the success rate for curing the disease has gone from 50 percent when the Jimmy Fund was initiated to about 90 percent at present.
The charitable organization has had a longstanding partnership with the Red Sox.
Jon Lester, who was diagnosed with and treated for lymphoma in 2006, was on the receiving end of a ceremonial pitch from a woman who suffered from the disease.
Andrews said it was a touching moment, seeing the two shake hands as Lester signed an autograph.
"He's very humble about that," Andrews said. "When he had the bad year last year, I said, 'I don't worry about him. He's got it. He's got the It Factor.'
"And I'm really thinking he's going to have a good year this year, because he's that kind of guy."
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Brownie Points, and follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne. Jason Mastrodonato is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less