Erik’s dying wish — Baseball has been needed distraction

SEEING HIS TEAM IN PERSON WAS THE BEST MEDICINE for Erik Zinn of Harrison, who is battling colon cancer. A hospice house social worker made Erik's wish to see the Boston Red Sox play one last time a reality last month.

HARRISON — Like many New Englanders, Erik Zinn was born into Red Sox nation. The Pittsfield, N.H. native fondly remembers listening to the games on the radio with his grandfather as a very young boy. And he’s been a Sox fan ever since.

“He used to tell the kids that if we weren’t quiet during the games, he’d sell us to the gypsies,” Erik recalled. “I didn’t even know who the gypsies were, but I was pretty sure I didn’t want to be sold to them.”

As most kids his age, Erik was a big fan of Red Sox Hall of Famer Carl Yastrzemski. As the years passed, pitchers with personality like Dennis “Oil Can” Boyd and Rich “El Guapo” Garces caught his fancy.

“There were so many players that I liked, it’s hard to say who was my favorite,” he said. “Today, it’s Mookie Betts. I saw him play in Portland. I hope the Red Sox hang onto him, but they always seem to let guys like that go.”

Erik, now 46, has found baseball not only to be a passion, but more recently it has served as a needed distraction. In January 2014, Erik was diagnosed with colon cancer, and while there was some hope after initial treatment, his condition has deteriorated rapidly and the end of his life is growing nearer.

While being cared for at Androscoggin Home Care & Hospice’s Hospice House, the Harrison resident mentioned to social worker Jen Dimond that his last wish was to go to Fenway Park and see the Sox play in person one final time.

Thanks to the fast actions of few and the tremendous generosity of many, just three days later, Erik’s wish came true.

He, his aunt, Martha Raley and a hospice nurse were transported by limousine donated by the Fortin Group to watch the Red Sox battle the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim on June 25. He was treated to the very best seats in the park, as a guest of Red Sox owner John Henry in a luxury suite directly above first base. W.B. Mason was integral in securing the tickets.

When Erik learned that he was going to the game, he was at a loss for words.

“You always hear about stuff like this, but you never think it’s going to happen to you,” he said. “I had been thinking about going to a game a lot, but I just kind of blew it off. But then, I thought that this was one thing I could actually do before my time is up.”

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Erik received a proper send-off from the nurses and some Androscoggin Home Care & Hospice staff. As he walked from the Hospice House entry to the limo, he sported a Cheshire-cat grin from ear-to-ear. A small group held signs that sent him off in fine style. Nurses and staff who could get away for a few moments joined in the fun and smiles were punctuated with tears of joy.

“You hope to experience something like this at least once when you’re working in hospice,” said Dimond. “I am so happy for Erik.”

On the way to the game, Erik shared his other wish that came true on May 29 when he married his wife, Min, in Thailand.

“There’s nothing too romantic about our story. I met her at an ice cream shop in Thailand when I was visiting my father over there,” he said. Erik had hoped that his health would improve so that he could return to her in Thailand and sadly, challenges in obtaining a visa have prevented his wife from coming to the states. He misses her, and their pug, Sumo, who Erik described as “all head and no body.”

Once arriving outside of Gate D at the park, a representative of the Red Sox welcomed Erik and presented him with gifts courtesy of W.B. Mason. The gift bag included a hat, a baseball signed by Red Sox greats Luis Tiant and Rico Petrocelli and other goodies. Then, it was up to the suite to settle in and watch the game.

Erik and his group weren’t the only Mainers in the box that day. During the fifth inning, NESN broadcaster and Lewiston native Tom Caron stopped by to say hello and pose for a photo. Then, after the seventh inning, Erik was surprised to look out over right field at the message board, which read “The Red Sox Welcome Eric Zinn to Fenway Park!” It didn’t matter much to Erik that his first name was misspelled. He was simply amazed. And as she looked at her nephew, Martha, who has been caring for Erik when he was able to be at home, couldn’t fight off the tears.

Martha had nothing but praise, not just for those who put the day together but for the caregivers who have worked with Erik during the last three-plus years.

“All the different realms and parts of care come together and they work so well together,” she said. “And what they do is not just for the patient, it’s for the family too. They have been great.”

About the only drawback on this warm, sunny afternoon is that the home team couldn’t come up with a win. But that didn’t seem to matter all that much. Erik had fulfilled his dying wish and for that, all associated with this special day are so very grateful.

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