The fear that Jorge López felt after capturing the mound in the eighth inning on Saturday night was not because of the moment. He’s also inherited a lot of tricky situations before – one runner on the other isn’t so unusual for a high-leverage reliever.
But his heart pounded like never before, wondering who was standing to watch the pitch for the right hand. Their son Mikel passed out of the hospital in Cincinnati on Monday. He and Lopez’s wife, Carla, went to Baltimore for a checkup. He then went to Boston to see Lopez pitch, but mostly to enjoy his 9th birthday with his father.
Much of Mikel’s life has passed like this. With his son in and out of the hospital, Lopez must enjoy the moments he can see Mikel during a whirlwind baseball season—no matter how brief they are, however nerve-wracking a situation on the field can be.
So Lopez stood on the mound in the eighth and ninth innings, trying to make a four-out save for the Orioles at Fenway Park.
“I did not want [expletive] It’s right in front of him,” Lopez said.
Lopez didn’t. One run crossed the plate, but he saved in the highest-tension scenario of his career while pitching for his son. He does this on every outing. But on Mikel’s 9th birthday, and as he watched from the stands, that moment meant more to Lopez than anything else.
“I was jumping all over,” Lopez said of his postgame reaction. “He’s my friend. I haven’t been right next to him all the time. I’ve been [losing] So much time with him, you know? And that’s something I have to appreciate day in and day out.”
Mikel spent most of the first two and a half years of his life in the hospital battling an autoimmune disorder. Shortly after Mikel’s first birthday, he was diagnosed with familial Mediterranean fever and Crohn’s disease. The combination changed the course of Mikel’s life with chemotherapy and a bone marrow transplant in 2021.
Now, Lopez can say that her son is a transplant survivor. The days are not easy. He still spends extended time in the hospital in Cincinnati for checkups as well as treatment in Baltimore. But when López learned that Mikel and his wife would be able to travel to see López for Mikel’s birthday, emotions ran out.
“His whole life has been a battle with his condition,” Lopez said. “And in the end we got the verdict that he was going home, and we got this surprise from him. I didn’t even know if he would be able to take off from here. Just an exciting moment. The first time I saw him, Because I knew he was coming, my heart was pounding.”
Mikel spent time at the clubhouse on Friday, high-fiving players as his father grabbed his other hand, leading him around. And on Saturday, between the first and second games of the doubleheader, right-hander Joey Krehbiel took a cake and served as the rallying presence for Lopez’s teammates to meet Mikel for a rendition of “Happy Birthday.”
Mikel got two cakes. They were both cars, but one “car” was from the movie and the other was a Ferrari. A mostly eaten clubhouse postgame, relic of a celebration Mikel won’t forget.
“He was in shock when everyone saw him,” Lopez said. “He just had such a birthday today, and even better with a save and a better win. It’s a gift for him. And he’s not going to forget it for the rest of his life.”
It’s hard to come by moments during baseball season when Lopez travels from city to city. His son is always in his mind. But his heart pounded to find him at Fenway Park, he smiled ear to ear and brought tears to his eyes.
It’s a moment that Lopez will never forget.
“Hopefully he continues to be with us throughout the season and throughout his life,” Lopez said. “We have so much to be grateful for as a family, just for having him here alive with us.”