CHICAGO (CBSDFW.COM) – It’s a cold Thursday night in Chicago. C.J. Wilson is standing at the bank of elevators on the second floor of the Hyatt Regency off Michigan Avenue. None of the people from the large crowd passing by notice they’re walking with an All-Star pitcher who is one month removed from an American League championship, and he is okay with that.
“Ceej,” his friend and charity partner Robert Champagne shouts across a busy glass-encased walkway above Stetson Avenue, “Over here!”
As C.J. Wilson walks up, he’s not the focused athlete you see trotting off the field between innings. He’s just a guy hanging out at a conference for a rare bleeding disorder, and this is his new passion.
Out of the hallway and into an exhibit hall, it doesn’t take long for people to figure out who C.J. Wilson is. Standing on a slightly-raised platform in his red Rangers home jersey, C.J. is surrounded by kids and adults eager to get a quick picture and autograph with the star.
Wilson is in Chicago because in 2007 he met Robert’s son Micah in what many would call a chance encounter. The boy was being treated at Cook Children’s Medical Center for complications from severe hemophilia when C.J. and other members of the Texas Rangers visited the hospital.
Through that meeting a bond was born. That bond is strong enough that C.J. spent time during his 2010 offseason talking with South African kids who are living with hemophilia, and that bond is what brought him to the National Hemophilia Foundation’s annual meeting last weekend in the Windy City.
C.J. and Champagne now run C.J.’s Children’s Charities, and over the past few years the two have impacted the lives of hundreds of North Texas kids. They’ve given large donations to both Cook Children’s and Children’s Medical Center of Dallas. They’ve sent a number of kids to Camp Ailipomeh, a Texas-based summer camp where boys with hemophilia learn to treat themselves. And they’ve hosted everything from bowling to Guitar Hero parties to help raise awareness for a cause that deeply impacts a small but needy portion of society.
Back in September, Wilson was the guest of honor for a national program that brought kids from all over the country to Fort Worth to learn about sports and health and living with hemophilia. On a Saturday morning C.J. was up early to teach the kids fundamentals of baseball and proper health. What was especially impressive about the lesson was Wilson’s Rangers had clinched the AL West in a late-night celebration Friday night, and the pitcher was expected at the Ballpark for a day game that morning. Many others would have cancelled and it would have been understood, but Wilson was there and the kids were in awe.
Many athletes have a ’cause’ for one reason or another, but C.J. Wilson’s cause has taken him on a journey far beyond baseball. And even if he’s not pitching in a Rangers uniform next season, there will be hundreds of people in North Texas cheering for him because of the impact he has made in their lives. It’s all thanks to a little boy in a hospital nearly five years ago.
– Ryan Crowe is a writer for CBSDFW.com and an adult with hemophilia. When not helping keep CBSDFW.com online, he is active in the bleeding disorders community.