April 12, 2006
Opening Day performance is best yet for singer-survivor Jordan Leandre
Jordan Leandre isn't able to play baseball this spring, but the 5-year-old got to do the next-best thing yesterday: sing the National Anthem on Opening Day at Fenway Park while lined up alongside his Red Sox heroes.
Leandre, who is being treated in the Jimmy Fund Clinic for Ewing's sarcoma, is an old hand at singing the anthem, with several Fenway appearances now to his credit. This was the first time that he had handled the task on Opening Day, however, and the first time Big Papi himself – Sox slugger David Ortiz – pushed his wheelchair across the diamond.
The emotional scene took place just after Leandre and his family, from beside the Red Sox dugout, watched the entire team introduced to the capacity crowd. None of the players drew cheers as loud as Jordan, dressed in a Jimmy Fund cap and authentic Sox jersey with his name and number "06" on the back. Ortiz accompanied the young fan out to home plate, where he took his place alongside superstar outfielder Manny Ramirez as more than 35,000 roared.
After Leandre was done singing, Ortiz, Ramirez, and other members of the team shook hands with and high-fived the youngster before he rejoined his family to watch the game. Although the Red Sox went on to beat the Toronto Blue Jays 5-3, Jordan's day had already been made before the game's first pitch.
"As long as there is baseball, Jordan is happy," said his dad, Ken Leandre. "With everything he's been through, he just keeps smiling. The more kids and families who can see him out there, the more they will see you should never quit."
Jordan has had plenty of challenges to face in his young life. The South Dennis, Mass., resident was 2-and-one-half when diagnosed with Ewings's sarcoma – a cancer that occurs primarily in the bone or soft tissue – in the upper part of his right thigh. He underwent 10 months of chemotherapy at Dana-Farber and Children's Hospital Boston; while cancer-free for two years, the resulting damage to his right leg has forced him to undergo four surgeries since last July.
Now in a full body cast, Leandre is restricted to "air baseball," a game of his own invention that he plays with a bat, glove, and vivid imagination on the family couch. He also goes to his brother Andrew's junior varsity games at Nauset High School, where he has taken on a role as half-mascot, half-coach. "Jordan is my biggest fan and my biggest critic," says 15-year-old Andrew. "He's also my inspiration."
The major leaguers who have been seeing (and hearing) Jordan at Fenway Park since his singing debut as part of the WEEI/NESN Jimmy Fund Radio-Telethon in August 2004 can certainly relate. His rendition that first night was so moving it was later recorded by directors Bobby and Peter Farrelly for inclusion in their hit movie about the Red Sox, "Fever Pitch," and he's since been invited back by the Red Sox several times to sing both the anthem and "Take Me Out to the Ballgame."
While it's a safe bet nothing can top this latest performance for sheer excitement, Jordan will be more than ready to make the 90-mile trip up from the Cape to Fenway when the call comes again. "We were out in the players' parking lot waiting for our car, and Manny came out," said Jordan's mom, Shelley, of the day's end. "He was about to leave, and he took out a pen and autographed Jordan's hat. Manny and Ortiz are his two favorite players, so it was a perfect end to the day."