The major league baseball was signed by the 3-year-old’s hero and what’s better than that? It read: “To my Big League Slugger, 1989.”
John Champ’s penmanship graced the horsehide and his son, Conner, cherished it.
“It was a big deal because I thought he would have it his whole life,” Champ said. “It would be something signed from the ‘80s from his dad and it would be a real heirloom for him.”
Sadly, Conner’s life ended when he was 4. A cancerous brain tumor robbed the Champs of the first of their three children in 1994.
“He was a smart kid with a great personality,” Champ said. “People gravitated toward him.”
Many of those folks will head to Vista’s Shadowridge Golf Club on Sept. 9 for the 25th annual Conner’s Cause event. It’s a full day of golf and grub, all being done in Conner’s name.
For a charity event to reach a quarter of a century is a milestone. Then again, Conner was special and the donations raised in his honor do so much good.
“In those 25 years we have helped 5,000 families,” Champ said.
Conner’s Cause, which added Sprouts as a sponsor this year, raises dough for parents experiencing the financial and emotional strain of caring for an ailing offspring. In association with Rady Children’s Hospital, Conner’s Cause helps in ways that are hard to imagine.
The obvious manner is with money to soften the blow of costs associated with caring for an ill child.
“The hospital is approached by people all the time with families whose kids have life-threatening illnesses,” Champ said. “A lot of people need help with basic needs, like utility bills or transportation or room and board to go to L.A. for a special procedure. The hospital is inundated with these kids of people.”
Conner’s Cause does more than scratch a check. Champ, as well as his wife, Judy, provide those parents with a shoulder to lean on and to serve as an example of what lies ahead.
“When Conner was ill we met some people that lost their child 20 years prior and they were happy and healthy and I thought, ‘There is hope for us that we are going to be OK,”’ Champ said. “I never forgot that and it was super encouraging.’
Champ admits the challenges of looking into the eyes of a distraught parent experiencing the nightmare of losing a child. But he stiff-arms his reluctance and thinks of Conner.
“What would my son want me to do?” Champ said. “Would he want me to have a ruined life or thrive and do what I could to be happy. That is easier said than done. Some people go the other way and they have a hard time.”
So the Champs, who live in Carmel Valley, do what they can as often as possible. Their charity was among the original points of life designated by President George H. W. Bush.
“We are always there for other people that are having a hard time,” Champ said.
The golf tournament is filled with good times and great raffle items. The dough raised helps the Champs continue their quest to ease the pain of parents dealt a difficult hand.
Maybe Champ, who envisioned his sons playing together at Torrey Pines High School, will bring that baseball that has so much meaning.
“Conner pulled the ball out when he had a couple months to live after we had talked about him passing away,” Champ added. “He said, ‘Hey dad, before I die I will hand you this ball and you will keep it for me, OK?”’
Keep Conner’s Cause alive by playing golf on Sept. 9 or making a donation to the Encinitas-based charity at connerscause.org.
Top: John and Conner Champ, who was 4 when he died in 1994 of brain cancer. Photo courtesy the Champ family
Sportswriter Jay Paris has written his “Sports Talk” column since joining the Coast News in 2013.
Paris, a Cardiff resident, is a longtime Southern California writer, getting his start with the Orange County Register before coming to San Diego in 1992 to cover the Chargers.
He had the Chargers beat for more than two decades with Oceanside Blade-Citizen, the North County Times and the San Diego Union-Tribune, before being named a sports columnist with the San Diego Union-Tribune.
Paris has won numerous awards voted on by his peers in the Pro Football Writers of America. He has also been a staple on countless media platforms, everything from the KPBS to MLB Network and various radio outlets.
Paris is also the author of three books, with his latest one being, “Shohei Ohtani: The Amazing Story Of Baseball’s Two-Way Japanese Superstar.” He has also written “Game Of My Life Chargers” and “Game Of My Life Rams.”
He currently covers the NFL in Los Angeles for Forbes. com and is a contributor to USA Today Sports Weekly. Follow Jay on Twitter @jparis_sports