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The Boston Globe

Metro

For hospice patient, Red Sox run provided reason to carry on

By last Christmas, Frank Nunes seemed to have lost hope. He would stay in bed for days on end, and almost never left his room. He hardly ate and often refused to take his medication. Frail and forlorn, he told his family he wanted to die.

“He had basically given up,” said Michael Remeck, a medical social worker for Hospice Services of Massachusetts who began visiting Nunes in December. “He was basically signing out of life.”

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But Nunes, 72, still loved his Boston Red Sox. As the Sox made a magical run to last year’s World Series, he watched or listened to every game until the final out. When they won the title, the team’s third in a decade, he whooped in celebration and cried tears of joy.

The first time he visited Nunes at the Bostonian Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Dorchester, Remeck saw the signed picture of pitcher Luis Tiant on his bedroom wall, a panoramic picture of Fenway Park by the television. A lifelong baseball fan himself, Remeck knew what to do.

He showed Nunes old highlights on his iPad: Ted Williams’s last at-bat, Carlton Fisk’s famous home run in the 1975 World Series. Nunes loved every second, and perked up for the first time in weeks.

Watching him, Remeck had an idea. Nunes, who had suffered a severe stroke several years ago that robbed him of his independence and eventually sent him to hospice care, needed a spark, something to lift his sights, something to hold on to.

“If, by some miracle, I could get the World Series trophy here, in this room, would you start eating again?” Remeck recalled asking.

‘From that day forward, it gave him reason to believe, reason to carry on. He had faith.’

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“You better believe I would!” Nunes replied.

While he began to ask around about the 2013 trophy, Remeck visited every two weeks through the winter, talking baseball and playing songs on his guitar. As Remeck strummed and sang, Nunes would move his hands to the music, like a conductor.

Time passed, and Nunes seemed to brighten. He began to eat more, especially when his son, Frank Nunes Jr., brought him fried chicken or a pastrami sub. He chatted with the staff more and was more alert.

“From that day forward, it gave him reason to believe, reason to carry on,” said Remeck, 60. “He had faith.”

His son said his father had struggled to come to grips with declining health. With his wife unable to care for him alone, he was sent to the Bostonian last fall. He had worked hard his whole life, mainly as a maintenance worker at the VA hospital. Now he had to rely on others for everything.

But lately, he said, his father’s spirits had lifted.

“I think something clicked in his mind,” Frank Jr. said. “That it’s better to live than die.”

All the while, Remeck and others were working to bring the World Series trophy across town to Neponset Avenue.

Meryl Johnson, marketing director for Hospice Services of Massachusetts, called the mayor’s office, who called the Red Sox. In April, as Nunes welcomed the return of a new season, the good news came.

When Remeck told him the trophy was coming, Nunes did a double take, unable to process it all at once. Then his eyes got wide and lit up with excitement.

So on Tuesday morning, Nunes wore his best Sox garb and left his bedroom to join his son and Remeck on the first floor. Together, they waited in anticipation.

He recalled rooting for the Sox as a boy, and taking his own kids to Fenway when they were young. He especially loved the 1970s teams, Tiant most of all.

“I’m a Red Sox fan,” he said. “That’s me. They are my heroes.”

Nunes said he never really thought he would get a chance to see the trophy. But he did not give up hope and thanked Remeck for making it happen.

Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

“I just want to touch it one time,” he said. “This is a big day for me.”

Then the crowd fell away, and a tall man in a Red Sox shirt appeared in the doorway, trophy in hand. He walked over to Nunes and set it gently beside him on the table. Nunes, overcome, let a few tears run down his face.

“I’m so happy,” he said again and again. “For the rest of my life, I’m happy.”

He posed for some pictures, and then some more. Finally, he reached out gingerly to touch the trophy.

“Always Red Sox,” he said. “They’re my team.”

The Red Sox security supervisor, John McDermott, had another surprise: a replica championship ring. Nunes looked down at it with wonder.

“I thank you, sir,” he said.

“You’re so welcome, my friend,” McDermott said.

(The principal owner of the Red Sox is John Henry, who also owns The Boston Globe and its related websites.)

Nunes had not been outside in some time, but Tuesday was the day. He followed the trophy outside, where a celebration had already started.

Nunes sat in the warm sun, admiring his new ring and the trophy nearby. The cold of December seemed far away.

Frank Nunes spent time with the 2013 World Series trophy Tuesday at the Bostonian Nursing and Rehabilitation Center.

Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

Frank Nunes spent time with the 2013 World Series trophy Tuesday at the Bostonian Nursing and Rehabilitation Center.

Peter Schworm can be reached at schworm@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @globepete.
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