THE DEGREE to which a boy can love the game of baseball is incalculable. But in the emotionally searing story of Hudson Davis, we gain some idea. ß
The 12-year-old from Lafayette is nearing the completion of a Little League season in which he helped pitch and hit his team to first place and was named to his league's all-star squad. That would be a distinguished achievement for any youngster. ß
What's especially remarkable about Hudson is that he did all that while undergoing chemotherapy and radiation treatments for a malignant brain tumor discovered long before his season started.
Nothing was going to stop Hudson from playing baseball. His persistence inspired his parents, coaches, friends, teammates and even Philadelphia Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins.
For Hudson, the motivation was simple. He wanted to play baseball.
"The only time you saw a smile on the kid's face was when he was on the baseball field," said Greg Davis, Hudson's father. "It was the only time he could really escape all the things that were happening to him. He's been through hell and back with all the stuff he's been through. But playing baseball definitely helped him get through it."
The best news is that the tumor is gone, and that Hudson had his final radiation treatment on Wednesday. He will continue long-term care for the foreseeable future, but the worst appears to be over and his prognosis for survival is excellent.
It may be a stretch to say baseball saved Hudson's life, it helped him survive his ordeal. He was so passionate about playing baseball, on one occasion during his treatment he received a red blood-cell transfusion in Oakland and played in a game 45 minutes later in Lafayette.
"All the nurses went, 'What, you have a game today? Right now?'" recalled Ellen Davis, Hudson's mother. "And he said, 'Yes, can you please hurry this up?' They went into fast speed and got that transfusion finished for him because I think everyone recognized that here's a kid who wants to be on the field so much, we're going to do everything in our power to get him there."
Hudson — Huddy, to his friends — has pushed the envelope of believability since January, when he was diagnosed with a rare and tricky-to-treat tumor. A case of diabetes insipidus that led to the tumor's detection complicated treatment to the point that after three of his six chemo sessions, he had to spend a week in a windowless intensive care unit at Children's Hospital Oakland.
"I think it's very easy for people to underestimate the effort it took for him to do what he did," said Dr. Joseph Torkildson, director of neuro-oncology at Children's Hospital, who is also Hudson's oncologist. "This was not mild chemotherapy. But I often tell parents I learn as much from their children as they do from me, because I'm always amazed at how so many of them do incredible things while we're doing what we're doing to them. And I'm amazed by Hudson."
"I regard Hudson as an athlete because he came to us with an athlete's attitude," said Philippa Doyle, nurse coordinator of neuro-oncology at Children's. "He is a healthy young boy who happened to come to us with a brain tumor. But he came in strong. This is not a kid who sits around all day eating nachos and watching TV. He's a kid who adores playing with a competitive spirit. I think he recognizes that in himself."
Hudson hated being in the hospital, but he made use of the time by planning with his dad what practices and games he could make and those he would miss because he would be too sick. The hospital staff made every effort to coordinate Hudson's treatment to accommodate his baseball schedule.
Officials and parents in the Lafayette Little League were determined to make it work for Hudson. In late April, he was scheduled for chemo on the same day league games were scheduled. Six teams involving 72 families unanimously agreed to change the schedule so Hudson could play.
Baseball was the furthest thing from the Davis' minds four months earlier, when they learned Hudson had a brain tumor.
"When you're sitting there and someone tells you your child has a brain tumor, it's like someone shot a cannon through your stomach," Ellen Davis said.
As it does with so many families hearing such news, Children's Hospital Oakland spiritually embraced the Davis family and rehabilitated them psychologically while Hudson was treated physically. Hudson was a bit scared but also optimistic about continuing to play sports.
"Baseball's No. 1 to me, and I wanted to play," Hudson said Saturday, after pitching two innings in an All-Star tournament in San Ramon. "My dad thought it was a good idea, too. My doctors kind of doubted that I could do it or that I'd have the motivation. But I showed 'em wrong, I guess."
Hudson wound up playing all but a handful of games. He said he had to make some adjustments because of his weakened state. He shortened his swing, used a lighter bat and worked harder at bending over on the mound to keep his pitches low.
"Best hitting year he's ever had," said Greg Davis. "He did a great job. And I'll tell you what, the team won when he was there, and they didn't win too much when he wasn't."
Hudson's coach, Peter Zolintakis, never expected him to show up much after chemotherapy began, let alone play and contribute so much.
"There were times he would almost look like a newly born horse, that's how unstable and frail he was," Zolintakis said. "But he still went out and did it, and his teammates always wanted him to pitch, even if he could only throw four of five pitches, because they knew how much it meant to him."
Hudson has had the admiration and support of his friends and teammates since the beginning of his difficult process. Perhaps most difficult for Hudson was knowing that he was going to lose all of his hair during chemotherapy. His friends sympathized. Before the season started, 10 of his closest pals at Stanley Middle School had their heads shaved at Amplify Barber Shop in Walnut Creek. The barbers refused to charge for the haircuts. Other kids wore T-shirts that read "Hud Is My Bud."
More recently, during an All-Star tournament, when an unwitting official asked Hudson to remove his cap during the national anthem, his teammates jumped in and said, "Un-uh, he's not taking off his hat. Leave him alone."
If not for Hudson's bare scalp, you wouldn't suspect he had endured such an ordeal. To be sure, the East Bay all-star teams he pitched against last weekend didn't have a clue. That's exactly how Hudson wants it. He does not crave special attention, which is why he initially resisted an attempt by Rollins, the reigning National League MVP from Alameda, to offer encouragement.
Rollins was the subject of a story for Stack magazine, whose publisher, Carl Mehlhope, is Ellen's brother-in-law. When Mehlhope told Rollins about Hudson's ordeal, the Phillies' shortstop was so touched that he asked if he could use the magazine's video equipment to film a personal message to Hudson. Later, Greg discovered that his next-door neighbor knew Rollins' father, and an on-field meeting was arranged when the Phillies played at AT&T Park in May.
"Jimmy is a tremendous guy for what he did. Hudson finally watched that video and really took to it," said Greg. "But there have been things that have come his way — special treats and special events — that he has shied away from because he says, 'So-and-so wouldn't do that for me if I wasn't the kid with cancer.' I thought that was a very mature thing to say."
Hudson agreed to tell his story only because he hopes it will help kids and adults who are confronted by the same challenges he has endured. Otherwise, he just wants to be known as a young baseball player who caught a tough break.
How would he advise other kids facing a similar challenge?
"Try to keep everything as normal as possible, like going out and playing sports and stuff," Hudson said. "Just do as much as you can outside."
From the beginning, Hudson's parents thought baseball might be a key to Hudson's recovery, particularly after he was forced to withdraw from school in January and be home-schooled. "Hudson is Hudson when he's on the baseball field," Ellen said. "He's told me, 'Mom, I'm confident when I'm out there, so I don't care if anyone sees me without hair. I'm in control. I know what I'm doing.'"
Hudson's psychologist at Children's, Dr. Dina Hankin, said there was a strategy to broaden the baseball theme to help him relate and cope with what was happening at the hospital. "We tried to create metaphors that connected the significance of his team to our team, and I think he responded," Hankin said.
The Davises were nothing short of overwhelmed by the care and treatment they received at Children's. Still, when they learned the tumor was gone, "Ellen and I were ready to fall on the floor," Greg said. "I made them tell me about six times. I tracked the doctor down in the hall afterward and made him tell me again. But Hudson said, 'What's the big deal? I knew it was going to be gone.' I'm glad he was that positive because I was scared to death."
When Hudson learned in June that he'd made the All-Star team, he turned to his father and said, "Nothing can make me sad now, Daddy."
Now that his baseball season is about over, he's planning a typical kid's summer, getting ready for seventh grade and his return to school. To celebrate his last radiation treatment, he had dinner with his dad at Boulevard in San Francisco.
He doesn't want his life to change much, even though he knows it has.
Said Greg, "I told Hudson, 'When you're at school next year, don't let any kid tell you that they're tougher than you. There's nobody tougher than you."