Gardner reunites with good-luck fan
Yankee homered on same night she got heart transplant
NEW YORK -- The last few weeks of Alyssa Esposito's life have been something straight out of a movie. It's a plot she's seen before -- and likely dreamed about -- but never imagined could happen for her.
Too many planets would have to miraculously align. Stories like these are usually reserved for the fantasy of the big screen, not reality. Especially for a girl like Esposito, 18, who, less than a month ago, was toiling on a heart-transplant list, unsure when or if a donor would ever arrive. Her mother, Laura, said she was at death's door.
All those planets actually aligned on May 15, when Esposito embarked on her own Hollywood journey. She gave Yankee outfielder Brett Gardner a bracelet that morning, saying it would help him hit a home run. A few hours later, Gardner, perhaps the least likely candidate on the team to actually fulfill the prophecy, used his speed to turn a blooper down the left-field line into an inside-the-park homer.
In the dugout, he remembered Alyssa and the lucky bracelet.
"To hit an inside-the-park home run," Gardner said, "a lot has to go wrong defensively."
That night, Esposito learned they had found her a donor. She was finally receiving a new heart. She underwent a successful surgery the next day and has been healthy ever since. When she came to, her father, Tony, told her Gardner hit a home run. Since then, whenever the Yankees are losing, the Espositos make sure Alyssa turns the game on. She's a good luck charm.
On Friday afternoon, the credits finally rolled for Alyssa with a touching storybook ending. Gardner reunited with his biggest fan at the New York-Presbyterian Morgan Stanley Children's Hospital, seeing Alyssa for the first time since he received a bracelet and she received a heart.
"I call it, 'Pride of the Yankees 2,'" Laura Esposito said.
Gardner said he has never believed in ghosts. But if spirits existed, they had to have been watching over Esposito. After Gardner received the bracelet, the Yankees won their next seven games. Esposito was staying on the ninth floor of the hospital and could see Yankee Stadium from her window. When she was moved to the sixth floor, too low to see the Stadium, the Yankees lost.
Since Gardner met Esposito, the Yankees have gone 17-9 and propelled themselves from the .500 mark to near the top of the American League.
"I don't think she was watching the last couple days," said Gardner, chuckling. New York just was swept in a three-game series by the Red Sox at Fenway Park and return home Friday to begin a set with the Mets.
There was one final unexpected twist in this movie. Perhaps it was the heavens trying to test Gardner. Because of inclement weather in the New York area early Friday morning, the Yankees' charter flight from Boston was not permitted to land at any of the airports. They circled around for 45 minutes before finally receiving clearance to land at LaGuardia.
When they landed, Gardner and his teammates had to wait for the buses to arrive from Newark, N.J., where the Yankees were supposed to land. They finally reached their cars at Yankee Stadium around 4:30 a.m. ET and went home. Since they arrived so late, and the event at the hospital was scheduled for noon, there was some doubt Gardner would make it at all.
But they have been each other's good luck charms, and Gardner arrived on time. A few moments after beginning his press conference, he asked for Alyssa. She was the reason he had to come.
"If we get to the playoffs and the World Series," Gardner said, "we'll have to see each other every day."
Jared Diamond is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.