The following article was written for and first appeared on ESPN.go.com.
You’ll have to forgive Andy Lane if he’s tempted to crack a smile when a batter gets ejected for arguing balls and strikes. Or when a pitcher deliberately plunks a batter in the backside. Or when a player gets thrown out of a game for using salty language with an umpire. Or even when flaring tempers cause benches to clear.
That’s because the 33-year-old former Chicago Cubs bullpen catcher knows someone will probably be writing a check to charity, and the results can change lives—his 1-year-old son, Jackson, is living proof. When Major League Baseball fines a player for misconduct, that money goes to philanthropic groups such as the Baseball Assistance Team (BAT), which provides financial relief to former players, staff, and personnel in times of need.
This was crucial for Lane and his 28-year-old wife, Elyse, last year when Jackson was diagnosed with an extremely rare heart defect. A grant from the BAT charity helped pay for top medical specialists and care while providing living expenses at a time when their careers were interrupted.
“They basically took the stress and burden off our lives to let us keep going so we could fight for our son and be there without worrying about losing our house, not worried about losing her job, not worrying about not being able to pay our hospital bills,” Lane said of BAT. “Jackson may not be here today if it wasn’t for Major League Baseball and the BAT organization.”
During prenatal testing, the Lanes learned their baby had a cardiac condition called tetralogy of Fallot, compounded by another irregularity, the absence of a pulmonary valve. At one point they were advised to consider terminating the pregnancy.
There wasn’t much to consider for the Lanes, who badly wanted to keep the child and decided to pursue the best medical care available regardless of cost. After weighing their options, they chose Dr. Frank Hanley of Stanford University, a top pediatric cardiothoracic surgeon. This meant the Lanes would need to relocate temporarily to Palo Alto, California, from their Phoenix-area home. Elyse had to take leave from a new job, and Andy needed to step away from his real estate business.
Jackson Lane was born Oct. 10, 2014, and was immediately placed on a ventilator and whisked to neonatal intensive care. Five days later, Hanley performed a 14-hour surgery to correct the defects, a procedure so invasive that the child’s chest had to remain open with organs exposed for 10 days because of swelling.
“We had no idea how bad it was going to be,” Elyse said. “The next two months was him on a ventilator, and even at that point, we still hadn’t held him. We’d only just really touched him a little bit and just watched.”
In addition to the grant from BAT, the families of current and former MLB players Mark Teahen, Dontrelle Willis, Matt Cain, and Billy Butler set up an account to raise money for the Lanes, and friends from the Kansas City Royals and San Francisco Giants visited the hospital during last year’s World Series.
Progress came slowly, and doctors were hesitant to provide false hope. But sure enough, Jackson kept improving. When Elyse and Andy were finally allowed to hold Jackson, he was still connected to dozens of wires and tubes. Finally, after a grueling 10-week ordeal, Jackson was able to go home to Arizona with his parents and older brother, Jake.
“His stay was supposed to be six months to a year, and he was out in 2½ [months],” Andy Lane said. “He was a fighter. He’s got a little chip on his shoulder.”
Jackson will need a few more surgeries during his childhood years, but now at age 1, he’s otherwise healthy and will enjoy a normal life without physical restrictions. Lane told the BAT staff he would happily represent the organization moving forward, and the Lanes toured Cactus League clubhouses with Jackson this spring to raise awareness and funds for the group among current players.
“It hit home because a lot of the guys have children at home,” Lane said. “[I told them], ‘There’s a good chance this kid would not be there if we didn’t have your help.’ This program is real. This program helps people that need it. … I used to be in those clubhouses thinking, ‘I’m never gonna be that person. I’m never gonna be the guy who comes in and speaks [about charities].’ You know what? Life happens. You just roll with it.”
The Lanes are just one BAT success story. A few more:
- Former Philadelphia Phillies outfielder Tony Longmire has benefited from aid in paying medical bills and living expenses while battling multiple sclerosis.
- Kate Cassidy, who works in the front office of the Texas Rangers, receives assistance in paying for developmental therapy for her autistic son.
- Former minor leaguer Bernie Nunez, who suffers from kidney disease and other medical issues, gets help paying bills and expenses.
- There are many others, and it’s stories like these that prompted Randy Winn ’96 to join the BAT staff in 2002. Winn had a 13-year MLB career and is a former All-Star who eventually became president of BAT after retiring as a player.
“It’s a great sign of what our organization is about,” Winn said. “We’re about helping the baseball family, those who have played or been around the game … Having that fine money donated to us has really shown how baseball as a whole has embraced our organization.”
Meanwhile, Lane is rooting hard for the Cubs this postseason. He was the team’s bullpen catcher from 2011 to 2013 and also spent time in the organization as a minor league infielder.
“I saw three managers, three GMs, and two owners in a three-year span,” Lane said. “I look back on those days, and I’m happy to see them make it so far. All those kids we helped develop, you take some pride in that. Seeing the pitchers, how they were rusty—like [Jake] Arrieta, I caught him the first day we got him over there, and [Hector] Rondon and all those guys now having such great success. I got to catch them first and see them develop.”
If the Cubs break their 107-year championship drought, Lane said he and Elyse, who is from Chicago, will be celebrating.
“I’m very thankful to the Cubs and the five years I got to spend in that organization,” Lane said. “I really hope they win [the World Series]. I know they’ll win it one of these days.”
So as the rest of us enjoy the drama of this postseason, we can know that good things happen when players make mistakes between the baselines—sort of a figurative swear jar for MLB.
In other words, don’t be ashamed to crack a smile next time your favorite player gets ejected, even as you might be tempted to use some salty language.