Before John Rocker Flamed Out

He Was Kind Enough to Strike Out an 8-Year-Old  

By Joe Kovac Jr.  / Originally published Dec. 19, 1999
It was a week before Christmas and the little boy's dream would not come true. The boy had a life-threatening disease. Only his mama knew about his dream. Not the 70 or so friends and strangers who watched the 8-year-old ride up to the high school baseball field with a police escort. And certainly not his hero, John Rocker of the Atlanta Braves, who was there to play catch with him. Ben Fuller's dream would not come true because he didn't let it.

Ben, who suffers from a one-in-a-million disorder that devoured his immune system, can still swing a baseball bat.

Saturday, all he wanted was for Rocker to throw him pitches. Rocker, who'd come down from his home in Macon, said it was the least he could do.
After playing catch with Ben and some of his pals, Rocker took the mound and proceeded to strike Ben out on three straight pitches.

Then Rocker kept on pitching.

Strike four ... strike five. 

Ben's mama couldn't take her eyes off her son. He was wearing a Braves jersey with Rocker's name stitched on back.

By the fifth strike, she was shouting, "Come on, Ben!"

She was standing down the third-base line, watching her boy at the plate, swinging and missing pitch after pitch.

Earlier, he'd told her, "Mama, last night I dreamed I never could hit that ball," Jean Langston recalled.

And here that dream was coming true.

Ben lunged and waved at Rocker's seventh pitch ... strike seven.

"Get him to choke up a little bit," Rocker said.

Rocker delivered the next ball.

Ben cut under it. Ben wasn't used to swinging at a real baseball. He and his buddies always play with a tennis ball. When his three brothers play in Little Leage games, all Ben can do is watch. He rides to games with them, polishing his black Nike cleats with a wet paper towel.

"He sits on the bleachers and cries," his mama said.

But on this day, Ben was deemed fit enough for hardball for the first time in his life, living out his dream. Whiffing.

Then Rocker's ninth pitch arched Ben's way.

The 8-year-old connected, a slapped roller toward first base that nearly nailed a photographer.

Only in New York are hits off Rocker cheered more loudly.

Later someone asked Ben how his day went.

"I had fun," he said as the red sleeves of his Braves shirt flapped in the breeze.

That Braves jersey of his now had fresh handwriting, in pen, on the left sleeve.

It read like a Christmas present: "To Ben ... Get Well ... John Rocker."

No comments: