OMAHA, Neb. -- Decked out in Arkansas Razorbacks' gear -- eyes wet and hands pulled near her face in wonder -- Sherry Gatlin of Fort Smith, Arkansas, watched the Texas Tech pitcher kneel in front of a concession stand during a rain delay at the College World Series and speak quietly to the 7-year-old boy.
"I don't care if you're an Arkansas fan," Gatlin said, "that's the greatest thing I've ever seen. Just makes you cry."
Dylan Dusek was the Tech pitcher. Cal Worrell of Sloan, Iowa, was the boy.
Dusek beat cancer as a 6-year-old, conquering acute lymphocytic leukemia after many months of treatment at Texas Children's Hospital. He idolized Craig Biggio and even got to meet the Houston Astros star. The experience reinforced Dusek's love for baseball and shaped his perspective on life, teaching him not to worry about a bad day -- which Tech experienced Wednesday in losing 7-4 to Arkansas.
Last month, doctors diagnosed Worrell with Burkitt lymphoma after a mass, thought to be a cyst, was removed from the right side of his neck. It's a rare and aggressive form of cancer, and the news came one day after his uncle Brady, the brother of his father, Barry, learned that he had leukemia.
"It absolutely flipped our world upside down," Barry Worrell said.
On Sunday night in his hospital room at Omaha's Nebraska Medicine, two days after receiving his second dose of chemotherapy, Cal watched Texas Tech face Florida in the CWS. He heard the ESPN commentators talk of Dusek, the starting pitcher in the Red Raiders' 6-3 win, and his story of a childhood bout with cancer.
The baseball-loving, left-handed kid -- no different than Dusek -- was mesmerized.
"If he hadn't been watching the game," said Ashlee Worrell, Cal's mom, "we would never have known."
The Worrells scoured YouTube for more information on Dusek, a fifth-year senior who came to the CWS as a freshman All-American in 2014 but did not pitch, then redshirted in 2016 -- another CWS year for Tech -- after elbow surgery.
Meanwhile, the Red Raiders, set to visit pediatric patients at Nebraska Medicine on Monday, rescheduled after a late night at the ballpark. The hospital trip was postponed again Wednesday when rain pushed Tech's second game in Omaha back by one day.
By then, word of what was happening in Cal's hospital room began to spread. Cheryl Dusek, Dylan's mother -- in Omaha with more than 30 family members -- caught wind that Cal had fallen hard for her son.
"I was completely overwhelmed," she said.
Dylan, a recent 27th-round draft pick of the San Francisco Giants, wanted to meet Cal. On Wednesday morning, a nurse educator at Nebraska Medicine offered the Worrells tickets for the Tech-Arkansas game.
Cal and his parents arrived just before 11 a.m. Early in a 3½-hour delay, as rain fell, Dylan, in his warm-up attire, found them on the dry concourse at TD Ameritrade Park.
They talked for 20 minutes, sharing stories of cancer treatment and how a desire to play baseball helps in the tough moments. Cal showed Dylan the port through which he receives medication, high on the right side of his chest. Dylan showed Cal his scar from a port long since removed. He taught Cal the "Guns Up" signal and autographed a new Texas Tech hat and a baseball, inscribing "Never Give Up" below the signature.
"A little left-hander, it's the same thing as me," Dusek said after the game. "I wanted to enlighten him and pump him up. I told him, 'When you're older, you'll have this scar, and you can tell people you got bit by a shark.' He laughed at that. So I told him to keep plugging, stay positive, always be happy. I hope that he and his parents got a lot out of it."
A crowd gathered around the group. When Dylan left to rejoin his teammates, Arkansas and North Carolina fans, among others, patted him on the back in gratitude.
Dusek said he considered how fate had intervened. If he hadn't needed elbow surgery two years ago, he would have finished his career in 2017 without a chance to be part of this CWS.
"It's unbelievable," said Dusek, who has been cancer-free for 17 years. "I wouldn't have experienced what was going on with this team right now. I wouldn't have met Cal. That's a crazy thing think to think about it. It's inspiring. It's a part of my storybook."
Dusek's uncle and cousin ushered the Worrells to meet Cheryl and Patrick Dusek, Dylan's parents. They talked for 10 minutes before Cal was summoned to the Texas Tech clubhouse, where he met the whole team, posed for photos and received a ball signed by all of the Red Raiders.
Cheryl Dusek traded phone numbers with Ashlee Worrell.
"I told her to call me," Cheryl Dusek said. "I can help her through this experience. As a parent, you just need help. I know how it feels."
Cal's family hopes that the chemo treatment five days ago will be his last. His pediatric oncologist, Dr. Don Coulter, is optimistic that they caught the cancer early enough that it had not spread. Cal underwent a bone marrow biopsy and a spinal tap. They haven't seen more evidence of the disease.
On Wednesday, after the visit with Dylan and the Red Raiders, Cal met the Tech mascot, Raider Red, and was intent to watch a few innings before getting home. His baseball team, the Westwood Rebels, coached by his father, had a game on the schedule.
Cal missed limited time on the diamond this spring, though he played only a couple of innings when tired. Many of his teammates shaved their heads to show support for Cal, whose parents had his light brown hair shaved when it began to fall out after his first treatment last month.
"The support we've received from our family and friends has been unbelievable," Barry Worrell said. "They sold over 800 shirts in two weeks for my brother and my son. We wouldn't be able to get through this without the community."
Brady Worrell, a 33-year-old father of five, probably faces a longer road. Cal's uncle needs a bone-marrow transplant once he is in remission. Brady missed the visit to the CWS on Wednesday while undergoing chemotherapy.
When Cal and his uncle complete treatment, the family plans a big party -- Fourth of July-style no matter the time of year -- at their favorite vacation spot, Lake Okoboji in North Central Iowa.
Cal got a test run Wednesday as the center of attention, a moment he isn't likely to soon forget.