‘It actually stems from who he’s as an individual’: WooSox’ Ryan Fitzgerald embraced the Worcester group — and town repaid him

Purple Sox

‘”He makes everyone who is available in contact with him higher.”

Ryan Fitzgerald has touched the lives of many followers whereas taking part in for Worcester. John Tlumacki/Globe Workers

The clubhouse positioned beneath Polar Park’s residence dugout is a big, vibrant room adorned with a number of wood lockers, most of which seem like near-replicas of each other. If nobody’s sitting in entrance of it, or for those who don’t learn the WooSox-themed nameplates connected to every one in all them, it’s practically inconceivable to inform which locker belongs to which participant.

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However one explicit locker, positioned close to the left nook previous the room’s entrance, stands out from the remainder. Taped simply above its nameplate is a baby’s drawing of a person donning a regular baseball cap and an unmistakable mullet.

That locker belongs to Ryan Fitzgerald, who proudly taped the portrait of him on his locker a few month-and-a-half in the past. The drawing is a memento of the particular bond he shares with its illustrators, 7-year-old Derek Raby and his household.

“Derek particularly has finished quite a lot of items of artwork for Fitzy,” John Raby, Derek’s father, mentioned. “I believe it stems from Fitzy’s generosity with the boys.”

Fitzgerald met the Rabys when he performed for Double-A Portland in 2021 and has since developed an in depth friendship with them. They usually make the two-hour journey to Worcester from their residence in Maine simply to go to their buddy, who stays concerned within the children’ lives. When Derek’s 9-year-old brother, Dexter, went to Massachusetts for a Little League baseball event, Fitzgerald attended one of many video games to cheer Dexter’s staff on. When the Rabys visited Worcester for Dexter’s birthday, Fitzgerald invited each boys onto the sector and performed catch with them for a half-hour.

“My spouse and I [were] standing there in tears,” Raby mentioned. “Right here’s this unbelievable man who genuinely cares for our children. We are able to’t even know it.”

In some ways, neither can Fitzgerald. He grew up identical to Derek and Dexter, taking part in baseball and idolizing those that performed it professionally. Having individuals look as much as him continues to be a brand new, unfamiliar expertise for him, particularly since he doesn’t assume he’s a lot completely different from anybody else.

“I at all times remembered the way it was like once I was a child,” Fitzgerald mentioned. “You see these skilled gamers and also you form of assume they’re bigger than life. We’re not. We’re simply common individuals that may play a sport slightly higher than others.”

The Raby boys view Fitzgerald not simply as a terrific athlete, however as a terrific individual as effectively. Their father mentioned that they respect all he has finished for them, and are at all times trying to discover methods to make him simply as comfortable.

“He’s finished a lot for the boys,” Raby mentioned. “Dexter and Derek discuss loads about what they’ll do for [Fitzgerald] in return.”

It’s not simply them both. Raby mentioned that everybody Fitzgerald interacts with turns into a greater model of themselves, and conjures up them to do good identical to he does.

“He makes everyone who is available in contact with him higher,” Raby mentioned. “In a means, you may say he has lifted up Worcester and New England as a complete and made so many people simply higher individuals.”

Ryan Fitzgerald (proper) posing for an image with Dexter Raby at his Little League sport. Photograph taken by Louisa Raby and used with the household’s permission.

As Fitzgerald continues to encourage followers, these exact same followers encourage him again. He spent his vacation season touring throughout Worcester with numerous coaches and mascots, aiming to unfold pleasure all throughout town. He met a number of individuals throughout that tour, together with a real buddy: 13-year-old Olivia Perez.

Perez was recognized with medulloblastoma, a uncommon type of terminal mind most cancers. Fitzgerald knew that she was a giant fan of his and deliberate to go to her. When that day lastly got here, he admitted that he didn’t know what to anticipate.

“I wasn’t certain how the entire thing was going to go down,” Fitzgerald mentioned. “I’ve by no means actually been round somebody that like, knew that they have been on the clock.”

Fitzgerald visited Perez’s center faculty, the place he gifted her a customized baseball bat along with his signature on it. He mentioned he admired her for eager to spend her time doing issues that ordinary children do, akin to going to high school, and that he was in awe of her energy in the way in which she lived together with her situation and nonetheless remained joyful.

“Seeing her was unbelievable,” Fitzgerald mentioned. “Seeing how mentally robust she was.”

Fitzgerald mentioned that visiting Perez was his favourite group mission he’s ever finished in Worcester. He added that she continues to be alive and dwelling, and he hopes to see her once more very quickly.

“I’ve talked to her mom slightly bit,” Fitzgerald mentioned. “I’ve been asking if she’s going to come back on to the park.”

Perez’s story is one that may at all times persist with Fitzgerald. He’ll at all times keep in mind assembly her and could be very comfortable that she’s stayed robust ever since.

“She’s nonetheless right here, which is much more unbelievable,” Fitzgerald mentioned. “She’s nonetheless dwelling and it’s only a actually good story.” 

Ryan Fitzgerald and Olivia Perez. Photograph appeared on Fitzgerald’s Instagram account, @ryrythisguy

Followers packed Polar Park on the weekend of the WooSox’s closing homestand, wearing grey “Fitzy” shirts with Fitzgerald’s face on them and black wigs that resemble his signature coiffure. All of them got here to honor Fitzgerald, who has spent a lot of his baseball profession honoring them.

“There was a bond between individuals whose lives he has touched,” Raby, who attended Polar Park on Saturday, mentioned. “I believe all of us noticed one another as part of what he was doing.”

The WooSox know the way vital Fitzgerald is to town and its baseball membership, so that they devoted a lot of the weekend to celebrating him. On Saturday, they gave out free bobbleheads of Fitzgerald to the primary 5,000 followers who entered Polar Park. Sure followers who arrived on the park dressed like Fitzgerald bought to go on the sector and meet him after the sport as a part of their “Fitzy Lookalike Contest.”

These occasions have been designed to assist followers join with the gamers they love, which Fitzgerald admires.

“I realized extra this 12 months of the stuff that goes into [fan events at Worcester], and all of the stuff they do for the followers and , the entire present they placed on,” Fitzgerald mentioned. “It’s actually one thing else, a variety of thought goes into it.”

On Sunday, Worcester mayor Joseph Petty introduced him with a key to town, an honor he realized about on Aug. 31. He acknowledged how nice of an honor receiving the important thing was, however was unable to fathom that it was given to somebody like him.

“It’s humorous as a result of I’m only a baseball participant,” Fitzgerald mentioned. “I simply attempt to be good to individuals, play the sport the fitting means.”

These efforts don’t go unnoticed. Fitzgerald is a fan-favorite at Polar Park largely due to how usually he goes out of his method to make others really feel good. Lots of Worcester’s followers consider that his character, along with his expertise, will translate to Fenway Park as soon as that day comes.

“Anytime I discuss to somebody about Ryan, to a T, it’s at all times ‘When are they gonna name him up?’” Raby mentioned. “This takes nothing away from who he’s as a baseball participant, however it actually stems from who he’s as an individual.”

Fitzgerald’s makes an attempt to make followers’ days are wholly deliberate. They stem from a pure need to do good for different individuals, as a result of these acts of service make Fitzgerald really feel simply as comfortable as his followers when he does good issues for them.

“It’s cool, clearly, to influence different individuals’s lives,” Fitzgerald mentioned. “I simply be ok with doing it. I believe on the finish of the day, what’s vital is serving others.”

Fitzgerald has a particular fondness for making children smile, together with the Raby boys, Perez, and each different baby he’s met. He is aware of that oftentimes the kids he encounters are assembly somebody they appear as much as, and he needs that have to be one they’ll always remember.

“I understand how it makes them really feel, particularly the children, and I like making them really feel particular,” Fitzgerald mentioned. “And hopefully I can proceed to try this.”

Having that chance to encourage followers on such a grand stage continues to be comparatively new for Fitzgerald. However it’s one thing he’s grateful for and doesn’t take with no consideration.

“It’s actually cool,” Fitzgerald mentioned. “I by no means actually thought I’d have a possibility like this. And it’s actually cool to have that, and I’m happy with it.”

To Fitzgerald, the followers are what make taking part in in Worcester particular. They’re the explanation why he has Derek Raby’s drawing on his locker, why he went to go to Olivia Perez at her faculty, and why John Raby considers Fitzgerald a “constructive beacon for everybody.” The individuals of town will at all times be particular to Fitzgerald simply as particular as he’s to his followers. That’s why he’s proud to put on the phrase “Worcester” on his chest each time he steps as much as bat.

“The individuals listed here are what make [playing for Worcester] nice and I’m proud to play for them,” Fitzgerald mentioned. “I don’t wish to let any of them down.”