Home Run To Boston: Young Cancer Patient Has A Special Fenway Day

David Alejandro and his mother, Elizabeth Pagan, meet Red Sox third baseman Mike Lowell. (CLOE POISSON/HARTFORD COURANT)

"Maybe," said David Alejandro, a slim 15-year-old in a Red Sox T-shirt as he headed to Fenway Park Tuesday afternoon on a bus chartered especially for him. Sitting nearby were former teammates from the Roberto Clemente Little League in Hartford, chatting and laughing, enjoying a free trip to the game.

David used to pitch, play third base and act as the spirit booster for the team, the Indios de Mayaguez. The contact hitter batted .549 in his last season and dreamed about making it to the big leagues so he could buy his mother a huge home.

"I don't have that energy," David says now, when asked about playing baseball again.

Maybe he'll feel better next season?

The East Hartford boy shrugged a little. "I might play."

Earlier this year, David lay in a hospital bed with blisters covering his mouth and body, his 5-foot-5 frame whittled to 92 pounds. He had been diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma soon after Christmas and spent about five weeks at Connecticut Children's Medical Center in Hartford. Weeks of chemotherapy led to radiation treatment, which ended in July.

By then, the Roberto Clemente baseball season was underway in the city.

"I told David at opening day, 'We won't let you fall,'" Alexander Martinez, the league's president, said at a press conference outside the state Capitol earlier Tuesday.

Knowing David was a Boston Red Sox fan, people in the league thought a game at Fenway might lift his spirits. State Rep. Minnie Gonzalez, D-Hartford, a cancer survivor herself, got involved and reached out to Pat Ryan, owner of the Farmington firm Ryan Marketing, six weeks ago.

Ryan and Don DeVivo, president of the New Britain-based DATTCO bus company, agreed to spend $1,200 to buy enough tickets for David, his friends and chaperones. They also donated a bus for the trip and picked Tuesday — a night game against the Chicago White Sox — because David can't be in the sun without feeling sick.

"We're all neighbors," Ryan said. "And we had the wherewithal to help."

Jorge Morales, a state correction officer and the Indios' head coach, said David deserved a special day. Instead of practicing for a league championship game against the Bravos that will be played today, the team snacked on stadium hot dogs.

"In my worst days, that kid made me laugh," Morales said. "If I had to pick a clown on the team, that would be him. … I used to ask him, 'Why are you smiling so much?' He said, 'Hey, we're playing baseball.' You can't take that away from a kid."

David's smile is different now. Doctors tell him the cancer that affected his lungs, chest and throat is gone, but that it might come back. Coaches who knew him for years say he is more reserved.

"I can't remember that much. I can't eat that much," said David, now 112 pounds, as the bus pulled into a parking lot near Fenway. Around his wrist is a blue rubber bracelet with the message in Spanish, "I can do anything through Christ, who strengthens me." His grandmother gave it to him last week.

"When they told me I had cancer, I didn't feel surprised," David said. "Cancer doesn't have no age limit. … It can happen to anybody."

He was grateful for everyone's work to get him to Boston for the night, he said, but admitted "events are not as exciting" anymore.

Later, as David ate a hot dog before entering the stadium, Elizabeth Pagan looked on with pride and worry. "It makes me happy that he's out with his friends," Pagan said in Spanish. The teen, her youngest of three children and an incoming junior at East Hartford High School, "doesn't want to leave the house," she said. "His personality has changed."

Pagan, a single mother who had to leave her job as a factory worker to care for David, was diagnosed with lupus in the past month and said the news has hit him hard. He kept to his room for a week. Family told him he had to get the strength to survive so he could help care for her.

Which made Tuesday's trip important. David had been to a Red Sox game once, a few years ago, but this time the club's staff brought him down to field level, in front of the home dugout, to watch batting practice up close before the game. He held two baseballs in his hand for autographs.

After some minutes, coming straight toward him was Mike Lowell, the Red Sox third baseman and 2007 World Series most valuable player who beat testicular cancer a decade ago.

"Stay positive, man," Lowell told a smiling David. "It will work out, trust me. I got hit with the same news and it was a shock. … But stay positive."