HOPE Week makes fan's wish come true
ALS diagnosis an afterthought when a father meets players
NEW YORK -- A Yankees staff member popped into a right-field suite at Yankee Stadium on Wednesday and quickly announced a two-minute warning. George Murray and his family were nearby and approaching fast. Everyone crammed into the suite scurried into position and tried to remain quiet -- not an easy task, considering just moments earlier, seven Yankees players entered to join in on the surprise.
The guests were desperate to mingle with Derek Jeter and Mark Teixeira, but they resisted the urge, instead excitedly whispering with one another while waiting for the Murrays to finally appear.
Two minutes came and went with still no sign of the guests of honor. The temptation to burst continued to grow, until Jason Zillo, the Yankees' director of media relations, delivered the news.
"They're getting in the elevator," Zillo said. "We still have a few minutes."
"What are you doing, Z?" Teixeira blurted out. The anticipation was too much to wait any longer.
These ballplayers, friends and family members were piled in this room to give the Murray family the thrill of a lifetime on Wednesday, the third day of HOPE Week at Yankee Stadium. George Murray is suffering from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and spent the morning on the field watching batting practice, thinking that was the end of his incredible day at the ballpark. It would have been more than enough fun and the perfect way to celebrate his ninth wedding anniversary with his wife, Kim.
When the Murrays finally arrived a few minutes later, after yet another two-minute warning and hushed excitement, they couldn't believe what they saw. The Yankees arranged for 30 of the Murrays' closest friends and family members to hide in a luxury suite, along with Jeter, Teixeira, Phil Coke, Phil Hughes, Brian Bruney, Hideki Matsui and Cody Ransom.
The doors opened, with Kim Murray pushing her husband's wheelchair. Trayson, the couple's 4-year-old son, sat on his father's lap, and Kim and Trayson expressed their shock with a yelp. The clarity of George's voice has been ravaged by ALS, so he was unable to react in quite the same way.
But his amazement was undeniable. It was right there on his face, and in his eyes. George sat in his wheelchair and let the moment rain down.
"Since I was a child, I dreamed of something like this," said Murray, 38. "I know there are a million other fathers out there who don't get this experience, and I hope they have it one day. This proves that regardless of your circumstances, your dreams and goals can be accomplished and come true."
Murray spent three years in the Army as a paratrooper in the 82nd Airborne Division before receiving an honorable discharge. Three years ago, George and Kim had recently married and settled down in South New Berlin, N.Y., when he was diagnosed with ALS and told he had three to five years to live.
The illness has progressed quickly. Murray lost the use of his arms and legs within one year and has been confined to a wheelchair since. The family struggled with the diagnosis and went through periods of denial and extreme anger, but George was strong enough never to question his fate.
"I said, 'All right -- what's next?'" George said, describing the moment he learned he had ALS. "'What do we do? I'm ready to keep fighting.'"
That is the attitude that has continued to provide strength for Murray's wife and provided the inspiration for Wednesday's HOPE Week event. The visiting Yankees players arrived at the suite an hour before they were scheduled to take the field against the Orioles, breaking their usual pregame routine. Such practice is normally taboo for ballplayers considered creatures of habit who thrive on rhythm.
But this was a special circumstance. Each player individually introduced himself to the family and signed autographs before leaving to prepare for the game. In another winkle that came as a surprise to George, the players were scheduled to take the Murrays on a private tour of Yankee Stadium after the game -- a 6-4 Yankees win.
"It is always worthwhile to see the smile on their faces," Jeter said. "This is something that should happen more often."
Kim Murray tried to fight back tears as she spoke to the media about her husband, but she was unable to do so. She cried as she talked about George's strength and his connection to Yankees legends Lou Gehrig and Catfish Hunter, who both ultimately succumbed to ALS. George said Gehrig is one of his heroes, and Kim wore a No. 4 Gehrig jersey to the event.
Despite doctors' prognosis, George has remained determined not to give in. This, Kim says, is perhaps the most important trait in the man she loves.
"He says every day, 'I'm going to beat this,'" Kim Murray said. "This is proof that dreams come true."
Jared Diamond is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.