CHICAGO (AP) — Kyle Schwarber signed a baseball for Campbell Faulkner, and Faulkner gave Schwarber a green wristband. Twin acts of kindness, and a friendship was born.
The slugger with the big Ohio heart, and the sunny boy with a life-threatening illness. A bond that made each of them better.
Some 1,700 miles away from Wrigley Field, Faulkner and his family are soaking up every moment of Schwarber’s comeback from a major knee injury. The 10-year-old Faulkner — “If you ask him, he’s two hands,” his mother Carrie says — stays up to watch his buddy in the World Series, and Schwarber proudly wears his Campbell’s Crew wristband while he tries to help the Chicago Cubs to their first championship since 1908.
“He’s a kid who can always put a smile on my face,” Schwarber said.
Faulkner has a rare mitochondrial disease. His body doesn’t know how to use food and oxygen properly.
Doctors knew something was wrong with Faulkner just days after he was born. The youngest of Carrie and Shane Faulkner’s four children never cried and was never hungry.
On Day 4, he was labeled “failure to thrive,” Carrie Faulkner said. He got his first feeding tube in his stomach when he was 4, and a second tube at 7.
“On the outside he looks perfect,” Carrie Faulkner told The Associated Press in a phone interview. “On the inside, it’s just a train wreck, it’s a disaster in there.”
So when Carrie Faulkner heard about what Schwarber said after one of the biggest games of his life, she just lost it. Moments after Schwarber hit two RBI singles in Chicago’s 5-1 victory over Cleveland in Game 2 on Wednesday night, he was asked about his green wristband, and the son of a retired Ohio police chief jumped on the question like a belt-high fastball.
“Yeah, Campbell Faulkner, he’s a kid that I met down in Arizona. He’s got a rare genetic disease, and I met him my first spring training,” Schwarber said. “Really young, smart kid, and he’s just always got a big smile on his face.”
Schwarber kept right on going.
“We stay in contact through email. He’s a smart kid, man,” he said. “The kid’s, I think, got an IQ of like a college kid for being so young. That tells you how smart he is. And that’s a person you want to look up to right there.”
A day later, Carrie Faulkner was still floored.
“I don’t even have words,” she said Thursday. “I have tears. … Oh my heavens what an amazing man to think of my son at that moment.”
For Campbell, it was no big deal. After all, they’re friends. “It made me feel good, and I knew that he was thinking of me,” he said.
Faulkner and Schwarber met last year during spring training. Faulkner was a guest of an organization called Steve’s Dream, which provides tickets to Cubs’ spring training games to families.
The Faulkners were tailgating when Schwarber stopped and signed a ball for Campbell, who returned the favor with the wristband that made Schwarber a member of Campbell’s Crew — a support group for Faulkner with its own Facebook page and Twitter feed .
Schwarber promised to wear the green band, and the connection only grew from there. Schwarber got Faulkner his own Dinger Bat. They exchanged autographed pictures and started emailing each other.
“He’ll just give me, like, support, and he’ll say he’s praying for me,” Faulkner said.
Faulkner was at Chase Field in April when Schwarber got hurt in an outfield collision with Dexter Fowler, spraining his ankle and tearing two ligaments in his left knee. He was ruled out for the year, just three games into the season.
A crestfallen Faulkner was quiet when he got home. He took his hat off, put it in his lap and prayed. Then he sent an email to Schwarber pointing out he had “a lot of doctors” and offering to help the slugger get in touch with them.
“Campbell literally went into protective mode to take care of Kyle,” Carrie Faulkner said.
And that’s when that one fleeting moment in the heat of spring training returned to Schwarber in a major way. As Schwarber embarked on the long, difficult process of rehabbing a major injury, he found inspiration in the example of his precocious friend in Arizona.
“It means a lot,” Schwarber told the AP. “I wasn’t going through near as much time as what that kid’s going through his whole life right now. That just gives me that extra motivation going through this rehab that I still have to go through after the season.”
Schwarber made it back quicker than anyone expected, surprising everyone with the Cubs. Following an encouraging checkup on Oct. 17 in Dallas, he was cleared to hit. He spent a few days in the Arizona Fall League, enough time for a short visit with Faulkner, before rejoining the NL champions in time for the World Series.
He is still not cleared to play the field, making him a pinch hitter for the next three games. But he took the news in stride.
“Not disappointing at all,” a smiling Schwarber said. “It was a long shot at the most.”
It was an answer Faulkner would have loved.
“You look up to him,” Schwarber said as he walked behind home plate at Wrigley. “He’s a great role model and definitely lives life to the fullest.”
Jay Cohen can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/jcohenap
Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.