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Monday, May 27, 2024


Patient’s First Phillies Ballpark Visit Made Possible by Caring Community


By Joe Hart

OCEAN VIEW — With the defending World Series champion Philadelphia Phillies making another run in Major League Baseball’s playoffs, one local woman had her wish come true last month, and got to see her team play live for the first time.
A huge Phillies Phan, Hazel Kelly, is a Court House native afflicted with cerebral palsy and other medical limitations. She has never been able to go to the ballpark due to her disability. That was until she had a fortuitous encounter with local community leader Robert “Bob” Grace.
“It was so exciting,” Kelly said. “It was really nice of Mr. Grace to do this for me.”
Kelly resides at Oceanview Center for Rehabilitation and Continuing Care, an assisted living facility in Ocean View, where she catches most Phillies games on television. Some time in August, however, Kelly spent some time at a partnering facility in Court House.
Sitting in her wheelchair wearing a Phillies cap, Kelly was approached by Grace, who was visiting a family member at the nursing center.
“I asked Hazel if she was just another one of those fans who started sporting Phillies stuff since they won the World Series last year,” Grace told the Herald. “She said that she was a big fan, but had never been to a game and had always wanted to go.”
Grace said when he heard that “the wheels in my head started spinning.”
“As a Christian and a Mason, charity for others is one of our main purposes in life,” Grace said. “I thought there was something others and I might do to make Hazel’s dream of seeing a Phillies game come true.”
Grace started recruiting people to help.
He enlisted his son’s brother in law, John Nickolas, who happens to be Phillies vice president and CFO.
“John provided the tickets to the Aug. 28 game against the Houston Astros for Hazel and her friend,” Grace said.
Grace then asked Bill King, CEO of Belleplain Emergency Corps, what the cost would be for an ambulance to transport Kelly from Ocean View to Philadelphia and back.
“Bill said he would be happy to donate the ambulance ride,” Grace said.
As it turned out, ambulance driver Anthony Johnson volunteered to make the trip and Belleplain paid him for the day. Johnson is almost as big a fan as Kelly. Belleplain also picked up the highway tolls and parking at Citizens Bank Park.
“We like to give back to the community when asked,” King said.
Grace said he also received financial support from membership of Cannon Masonic Lodge No. 104 in South Seaville.
“When I told them what I was trying to do, they said they would take care of anything I needed,” Grace said. “They didn’t even hesitate. Charity is one of the main missions of the Masons. We often support scholarships for local students as well as Shriners Hospital and victims of fires and other disasters.”
With all the volunteers in place and all arrangements made, the fateful day arrived.
The ambulance picked up a smiling Kelly at the Oceanview Center and they made the hour-and-a-half trip to the ballpark.
“As we crossed the Walt Whitman bridge, and Hazel saw the lights of the stadium, she was overcome with delight,” Grace said. “She was so excited.”
Everything was working out perfectly that night, Grace said.
“It rained for most of the ride,” he said. “But right when we arrived at the park it slowed down.”
“Hazel was having a great time,” Grace added. “She got a souvenir rally towel, a certificate for attending her first game and John (Nickolas) brought down a World Series ring for her to try on.”
In the end, everything seemed to be cooperating, except, of course, the Phillies.
In her first ever live viewing of her beloved team, Kelly witnessed the Phillies suffer an 8-2 loss to the Astros with starter Cole Hamels giving up six runs in six innings. Kelly’s favorite player Ryan Howard went 0 for 3 with two strikeouts.
The only bright spot was the performance of Shane “the flyin’ Hawaiian” Victorino, who had two hits and scored one of the team’s two runs.
Despite her team’s performance that night, Kelly still had a great time.
“It would have been even better if the Phillies won, but I can’t thank everyone enough for taking me to the game,” she said. “I’ll always remember it.”
Grace said the experience made him feel great.
“It’s always nice to see good people help others when they are asked,” he said. “It makes it all worthwhile.”
As this story was written, the Phillies were leading the Colorado Rockies in the best-of-five Divisional Series two games to one. They had just won a close game the previous night in the freezing confines of Denver’s Coors Field and Kelly continued to be a great fan.
“I think they’ll do it again,” she told the Herald. “Go, Phillies!”
Contact Hart at (609) 886-8600 Ext 35 or at:
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