A Spanish-speaking friend once told me that the reason some adults are so good with kids is because they have “sangre dulce,” which translates to “sweet blood.” Their affection for kids is genuine and unaffected, and they easily make connections because the children are so comfortable in their presence. The kids can sense the “sangre dulce.’’
I was reminded of this the other day while watching Red Sox players Blake Swihart, Deven Marrero, Chris Dominguez and Sean Coyle during a visit to Valerie’s House, a place dedicated to mending broken hearts.
Like the one belonging to a little girl who was wearing purple shorts over a leotard. Her name was Serenity, and no sooner had she said hello that this tumbled out.
“My mommy died,’’ she said matter-of-factly.
She was not alone. All the kids there had lost a mom or dad, brother or sister. One young teen, Kaitlyn, wore a necklace with a silver baseball charm. Inside, she said, were the ashes of her brother, Timothy.
Valerie’s House is meant to be a place where kids like Serenity and Kaitlyn and other family members can share and grieve and grow. On this afternoon, Katie Haas, the team’s vice president of Florida business operations, had organized a field trip whose purpose was a simple one: Coax a few smiles in a place that has known more than its share of tears.
The basketball hoop in the driveway proved an instant ice-breaker, the players engaging the kids in a game of H-O-R-S-E. One rambunctious boy showed no fear, choosing to take shots farther and farther away from the basket. Swihart and Marrero took to calling him “Steph Curry.’’ When Red Sox intern Savanna Wood, who had played more than a little basketball in her day, matched one of his long-range shots, “Steph” called her out. “I shot from here, not there,’’ he said.
A young girl with long brown hair named Samantha held back while the others played. Taylor Workman, who recently married Sox pitcher Brandon Workman, took notice. “Want to be on my team?’’ she said. Soon, Samantha was shooting baskets, too.
Valerie’s House typically makes time for the kids to take part in an activity designed to help them express their grief. This day would be no exception. Only this time, they had friends named Blake and Deven and Chris and Sean to help. A nonroster infielder in his first camp with the Red Sox, Chris Dominguez is a big man, listed at 6-foot-4 and 233 pounds. But soon, Dominguez was bending over the shoulder of Lily, a little girl wearing a pink tie around her hair, as she designed and painted a ceramic tile in memory of her older sister. The tile would be placed in a garden out back. Savanna Wood helped a young girl named Shea who wrote “Maisy,” on her tile, which is what she called her mother. Another little girl took the hand of Adam Grossman, the team’s chief marketing officer, as she chose a tile to paint.
Later, Lily sat on the steps, surrounded by a circle of players, chattering away. Her mom choked back tears. “You have no idea how much this means to her,’’ she said.
A boy named Joshua strode around proudly in his catcher’s gear while his new friend, Sean Coyle, looked on approvingly. Joshua had lost his mother a year ago.
Valerie’s House has adopted a motto: “Where Children Learn Loss Does Not Limit Their Dreams.’’
The morning after the Sox visit, Katie Haas received an e-mail from Angela Melvin, the director of Valerie’s House. Angela had heard the night before from Joshua’s care-giver. He had gone to bed, she said, talking about “the best day of his life.”