BOSTON (CBS) — It was a moment now 18-year-old Jordan Leandre, will never forget: his childhood hero, David Ortiz, pushed his wheelchair onto the field on Opening Day 2006.
“I feel like words don’t do it justice in a way,” Leandre said.
He met Big Papi in the midst of a scary time at four years old, when he was diagnosed with Ewing Sarcoma in his right leg.
“He called my dad to check in on me when I was going into surgery, I believe that was 2005. He didn’t need to do that but he’s such a genuine human being. He genuinely cared about how I was doing, so I thought that was awesome,” he explained.
When he heard the news his forever hero may be in trouble, he said it was gut-wrenching. “My heart sunk. I’m freaking out wondering where he got shot, if he got hit in a vital organ, if he’s going to make it. I’m actually tearing up at this point. I thought I was going to lose my favorite player of all time.”
Leandre has become a Fenway Park favorite himself.
He has sang the National Anthem at least a dozen times, earning him a cameo appearance in the movie “Fever Pitch” in 2004.
He was on the mound in 2017 for the Jimmy Fund Telethon and also got to wish Ortiz good luck at the end of an era.
“Just those little exposures, even when I went to his retirement ceremony, he remembered who I was said he was happy to see I was doing well,” Leandre said.
Whether Big Papi knew it or not, he changed Leandre’s life in these moments.
Someone who feels the same way, Maverick Schutte, who is still battling a rare heart condition.
“He is really kind. He helps kids. He is a really good baseball player and has the king of the clutch and he is my best friend and I love him,” Maverick said.
Big Papi once told him he’d hit a home run for him, and he did.
Maverick is celebrating his 10th birthday Tuesday. His birthday wish? “For Papi to wake up and start talking!” Maverick said.
Thankfully, that wish came true and Ortiz is expected to make a full recovery.
For Maverick, he still finds strength in his love for the player.
His message to Ortiz: “Hi, best friend! I hope you’re doing OK. I hope you’re doing better. I love you and you need to stay strong!”
Both boys believe Ortiz saved them in a way.
“People talk about how great of a person he is and some people you know you can look at them and say they are just doing that because they have to but I have had experience with them and I agree about everything everybody said about him. How great of a human being he is because I’ve experienced it so I can also attest to it,” Leandre said.
He feels he is living proof of Big Papi’s work off the field. Honored to have been one of those people, he took to Twitter.
He wrote, “Pedro Martinez said over and over about how David has saved a bunch of lives. I’d like to think I’m living proof. And I know a bunch of us in the survivor community who grew up watching number 34 feel the same way towards him. “
The rising sophomore at Emerson has been cancer-free for more than 15 years and now he wishes Ortiz a speedy recovery.