Cody Day sat at the round table Tuesday night at the Lumberyard restaurant, surrounded by his friends.
The 14-year-old Laguna Beach resident isn’t too different from other teenagers. He has been interested in skateboarding, as well as boogie boarding. But nowadays, it’s the simple things that he enjoys most, like being around people he loves.
He walks tenderly but without the use of a cane, and his hair is just growing back. On this night, these are the only noticeable signs that, for nearly five years now, Cody has been in a fight with cancer.
“I used to [like skateboarding], but not really anymore,” Cody admitted. “I can’t really do anything. Once I am able to do something, I don’t know what I’ll like yet. I can barely walk.”
Cody was diagnosed with a brain tumor in November 2005. His father and mother, Dave and Dallas, can be much more specific with the timeline than that. It was the start of such a battle for their only child.
“They told us on Nov. 2 that he had a brain tumor and needed to have surgery,” Dallas Day said. “The following day, we had surgery. He had 33 treatments of radiation, a year of chemo[therapy].”
Cody was in remission for around 18 months. Then, last March, he relapsed, returning to the Orange branch of the Children’s Hospital of Orange County. He was in the hospital until August, then released to hospice care.
“When they released him, they weren’t real optimistic about his future,” Dallas Day said. “He’s limited right now, but as each day passes we’re amazed about his progress. Three weeks ago, he was still in a wheelchair, and now he’s walking without a cane. It’s labored, but he’s walking. It’s huge. I mean, there was a point where he couldn’t walk, he couldn’t talk, he couldn’t move. Everything was lost. He was gone.”
Travis Harrison heard about Cody’s story. The Tustin High junior baseball player — an Aliso Viejo resident — was invited to participate in a national home run derby Jan. 10 at Tropicana Field in Florida. Then Harrison found out that he could play on behalf of a sick child through a program called Home Runs That Care. His younger brother Steven knew Cody from Thurston Middle School.
“I went over to his house, me and my younger brother, and we got to meet him and meet his family,” Harrison said. “We realized that he was just an awesome kid to hang around, a down-to-earth kid. He was just a perfect fit.”
Harrison is projected as a high pick in the 2011 Major League Baseball draft. During the home run derby, he was hitting bombs around 450 or 460 feet. Then, he said, he noticed a picture of him and Cody together on the “JumboTron.”
“It was cool because right before that pitch, on the JumboTron, they had me and Cody standing there, saying ‘Home Runs That Help,’ ” Harrison said. “That’s awesome. I got a little more adrenaline in me, and the very next pitch, I totally got into one. I got all of it.”
The blast to left center went 504 feet, the longest home run ever hit at Tropicana, where the Tampa Bay Rays play. For the shot, Harrison won the Babe Ruth Award, including a 54-ounce wooden “Babe Ruth” bat that was given to him by Ruth’s granddaughter.
On Tuesday night, Harrison met with Cody again. This time, it was to give him the signed 504-foot baseball.
“Thanks,” Cody said somewhat amazedly. He knows what a shot that home run was; he used to play in Laguna Beach Little League and the owner of the Lumberyard, Cary Redfearn, was his coach.
The Day family has gotten support from people throughout the community in their journey, including their church, the Laguna Little Church By The Sea. On Cody’s birthday in December, Dave Day said his son received more than 500 birthday cards.
“He was sent home from the hospital in August,” Dave Day said. “It was a wheelchair, but it was more like a gurney. He had a hospital bed set up in our home, and IV poles. In August, his birthday in December was not even in reach. We were looking at one day at a time. There were some moments that we were looking at 15 minutes at a time.
“It’s a blessing to have reached his birthday, to have reached Christmas, to have reached New Year’s. Cody, in this journey, has just appreciated pretty simple things.”
He’s had to. While his cancer was in remission, Cody did some fundraising for CHOC. However, he said, he grew to not like going back to the hospital as much.
“There’s a lot of successes there, but sometimes I don’t really like to make friends anymore there,” he said. “Sometimes, the friends just die. I’ve had friends who have died. But, most of them made it.”
Dallas Day said the doctors believe Cody has gone from 10 tumors on his spine to just one. Another MRI is scheduled for today.
“The doctors call him a miracle,” Dallas Day said. “Just today we were at the clinic and a nurse popped her head in the door. She looked and she said, ‘Oh! Cody? Is that you? Oh my gosh!’ Because as far as they knew, it was the end for him when we left the hospital.”
So Tuesday night was not only a celebration of a 504-foot home run, but a celebration of life. For Harrison — a stranger — to step up was huge, as well. The Days were already setting up a time where Cody could spend more time with Travis.
“I think it’s really awesome that he’s accomplished that,” Cody Day said of Harrison’s home run.
It was a long shot.
Sometimes, long shots come through.