The ultimate team player, cancer patient Nathan McCarty is going to bat for his school through the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
MUKILTEO — Nathan McCarty is always happiest on a baseball diamond.
Most afternoons, he can be found on the aging field at Kamiak High School. He kicks the dirt at first base, gazing toward the plate behind sunglasses, bent at the knees.
Some days, though, McCarty doesn’t make it to the field. Some days, the sickness wins.
Eighteen months ago, McCarty was diagnosed with cancer — acute lymphoblastic leukemia, a form of the disease commonly found in children. As a fight for his life began, baseball took a back seat.
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“I basically thought I was going to die,” McCarty said.
After nearly a year of chemotherapy, his weight plummeted from 190 pounds to 120. He spent his sophomore season watching his team from the bleachers. That’s when McCarty and his family approached the Make-A-Wish Foundation with an idea.
Nathan was tired of Kamiak’s field being underwater after a little rain, and there was little room for parents in the opponents’ bleachers. Instead of a trip to Disneyland or a chance to meet Mariners star Felix Hernandez, he wanted to upgrade the baseball field.
His wish will become a reality April 29. Kamiak plans to unveil renovated dugouts and bleachers, as well as a new outfield fence and backstop at a ceremony that will include former Mariners catcher Dan Wilson and Taylor Graham, former Sounders FC player. McCarty sees the day as a chance to finally pay back friends and teammates who never left his side during the worst days of his illness.
“I think one of the key things in healing yourself is having fun and laughing,” he said. “And I did that every day, because all these guys were at my house.”
Nathan’s mom, Shannon McCarty, said his friends made a clear impact.
“When they showed up, he didn’t feel like he was sick,” she said.
Alex Pettibone is a junior outfielder who has played ball with McCarty since grade school. Pettibone led friends on trips to McCarty’s house three or more times a week while he was penned up there; Pettibone also organized a group of 50 kids who shaved their heads in solidarity in the McCarty family’s garage.
McCarty’s wish didn’t surprise his friend one bit.
“He could have gone anywhere he wanted or met anybody he wanted,” Pettibone said, “but he chose to give back to the community. I think that shows a lot about who he is.”
McCarty’s decision wasn’t entirely unselfish. It couldn’t be, if it meant he got to play ball. .
When Nathan was 4 or 5, his family traveled in California. His father, David, had to work, and his mother was at a conference.
They planted their only child in front of the TV so Nathan could watch cartoons for an hour. But Nathan had another idea.
When David returned, his son was watching the College World Series.
“Dad, Stanford’s got two runners in scoring position,” Nathan said.
His fascination with the game never left. When McCarty was in elementary school, he went to camps at Kamiak over spring break.
“The big kids who were playing high-school ball would hang out with us,” he said. “I really looked up to those guys back then.”
Now, he’s the guy kids look up to.
“Some of our little siblings are going to come up and play here,” said Wilson Kessel, a catcher for Kamiak. “And it’s going to be because of him they have such a nice field.”
McCarty has a long road ahead. If the treatments keep working, he should be cancer-free by 2020. He still undergoes chemo once a month and takes plenty of medication. He doesn’t have enough energy to attend school every day, and going to baseball practice isn’t a sure thing. Most of the time, though, McCarty can make it. And that’s enough.
All he ever wanted to do, after all, is play ball.