His cousin would come to Children’s Hospital every day to sit with Mark Delamere. This was September of last year, a busy time for the cousin, who was a sophomore at Northeastern, a pitcher on the baseball team. Days were not long enough to fit in everything that had to be done, but priorities were priorities. Mark Delamere was at the top of the list.
“I’d go to class, go to the hospital, then go back to school for practice, whatever fit my schedule,” James Mulry said. “I just wanted to be there.”
He would talk.
Mark would be in the bed and James would talk.
He would talk about friends and neighborhood news from West Roxbury. He would talk about Northeastern and baseball. He would talk about something he had heard on “SportsCenter.” Gossip. Nonsense. Sports. The idea was to divert Mark Delamere’s thoughts from the buzz that was going on in the hospital and the room, the scary stuff that was happening around him.
Even when Mark was in the coma for those first days, James would talk. Even as Mark came back slowly, during the time he still doesn’t remember, James would talk. He was an anchor to the good times.
“We’re about five years different in age, but Mark always has been really mature for his age,” James, who just turned 20, said. “He pretty much always has hung around with my friends. He’s always been accepted.”
The cousins have been in each other’s houses for as long as they can remember, part of each other’s daily lives. The older kid gave the younger kid tips, taught him to throw a changeup two years ago, then expanded the lessons to include a curveball last summer.
They went to each other’s games, shared successes and failures. They threw balls to each other, batted balls, dribbled balls, slapped pucks at each other, swam in the same Atlantic Ocean during family summer vacations in Gloucester.
“James always has been the big brother to Mark,” Mark’s father, Mark Sr., said. “Mark always has been the kid, tagging along. It has been nice to watch.”
The accident now was almost unbelievable. You might have read about it. An SUV carrying four kids on the way home from Boston Latin Academy in the middle of the afternoon on Sept. 6, 2013, crossed the center line on the Arborway in Jamaica Plain at high speed, rolled over, and crashed head-on with a pick-up truck. Mark, three weeks shy of his 15th birthday, was in the back seat.
He wasn’t wearing a seat belt. Somewhere in the collision, he was ejected from the SUV. He was found 40 feet away from the wreckage. He was unconscious and in big trouble, rushed to the hospital.
“I was at work in Chelsea,” Mark Sr., employed by the Department of Revenue, said. “My wife, Sheila, called and told me what happened. She’d been worried because Mark hadn’t called after school, which he always did. Then she heard. The crash was so bad there was a huge traffic jam. I got to the hospital before she did.”
The news was not good. Mark was paralyzed below the waist from damage to his spinal cord. There also had been damage to his brain. He was in a coma. The long climb began from there.
“They wouldn’t even operate for five days,” Mark Sr. said. “That’s how worried they were about him.”
The driver of the truck, 33-year-old Kevin Cellucci, a father of three, also was critically injured. The crash was a nightmare.
After 18 days at Children’s Hospital, Mark Delamere was shipped by Medflight to the Shepherd Center in Atlanta, which specializes in rehabilitation for brain and spinal injuries. He was there for the next nine weeks, intensive work, learning to deal with life in a wheelchair, slowly reassembling the pieces of his memory. James Mulry, back in Boston, kept talking to him.
“I’d text him every day,” James said. “I’d call him every day. We always were in contact. And when he came home, there were more than 100 people at the house waiting for him. I was there.”
That was Dec. 5, 2013. The recovery and readjustment of Mark Delamere have continued. There has been a big fund-raiser, an ongoing drive to defray expenses (Mark Delamere Fund, Citizens Bank, 1999 Centre St., West Roxbury 02132). There has been rehabilitation at the Journey Foundation in Canton and at Regan’s Gym in South Boston. There has been a return to high school. There has been James.
In the middle of all this rehab, James started bringing Mark to the indoor Northeastern baseball practices. Mark got to know some of the players and coach Neil McPhee. He hung around in the wheelchair. He wore someone’s glove. He played catch. He was James’s cousin. He fit. He always has been mature for his age.
So a week and a half ago, the Northeastern nine went to Florida to play baseball in actual warmth and sunshine during spring break. The first game was the traditional opener again the Red Sox, a chance this year to get a look up close at the new world champions. So Mark Sr. made an executive decision at the last moment and said that maybe he and his wife and son should make a quick trip down to Fort Myers to watch this game because maybe James might have a chance at pitching against the world champions.
So they all were sitting behind the dugout with James’s parents and assorted other relatives at JetBlue Park on the big day. James could hear Mark’s voice yelling at him as he took the mound for the first time in the bottom of the third inning. Excitement ran crazy through his body as he went out to face Dustin Pedroia, David Ortiz, and Mike Napoli, 3-4-5 in the lineup.
The rest was on television, in the newspaper. You might have read about it.
“Unbelievable,” Mark Delamere said again and again when everybody got together that night after the game. “You struck out Dustin Pedroia. You struck out Big Papi. Unbelievable.”
Fastball on Pedroia. Slider on Ortiz. Unbelievable.
“I thought James had Napoli, too,” Mark Sr. said. “The umpire didn’t give him the call.”
The story went viral. College Kid Strikes Out Pedroia, Papi! News at 11! The college kid’s phone started to explode that night as messages arrived from everywhere, from people he knew from school, from baseball, from the neighborhood, from all over the country. The college kid and his cousin laughed a lot. It was a moment.
You share the bad times. You share the good times.