Lots of young baseball players would feel intimidated when making a first entrance into the Red Sox clubhouse at Fenway Park.
But Jace Andrews of Montgomery, Texas, felt right at home, building a rapport with Dustin Pedroia and Jonny Gomes right away when he had his wish granted at Fenway earlier this season. Jace even played a bit of a joke on Pedroia, pointing out how he had barely missed home runs over the Green Monster in consecutive games this season and presenting him with a box of Wheaties to give him the extra lift he needed to turn wall-ball singles and doubles into homers.
What did Pedroia think of that? "He went all around the clubhouse telling his teammates 'He gave me a Wheaties box,'" said Jace, 12.
"He's a jokester. He likes to give people a hard time and joke around with people," explained Julie Andrews, Jace's mother. "He's a fun-loving kind of kid, which is why he and Pedey had a great time together."
Jace, whose family includes parents John and Julie Andrews and brothers Jordan, 7, and Justin, 19, got his Red Sox fandom from his dad, who was born in Boston. He quickly latched on to Pedroia as his favorite player. Like Pedroia, who had to overcome questions about his size to become a major leaguer, Jace is short and has been battling obstacles his whole life.
"I feel like I'm Dustin Pedroia," Jace said. "He inspires me."
So it was natural that Jace's wish was to spend a day at Fenway with Pedroia and the Red Sox, throw out the first pitch and watch a game from the Green Monster seats. "I love Fenway Park, and I figured Pedey would be the best guy," he said.
Jace found out the wish would be granted on Mother's Day, when, in the middle of highlights from his parents' alma mater of Baylor, up popped Pedroia in front of the Green Monster, inviting Jace and his family to Boston. On Fenway's manual scoreboard read a message: "SEE YOU SOON JACE."
At first glance, most folks don't realize Jace has had health problems of any sort.
He was born with eight heart defects and underwent a nine-hour open heart surgery three days later. That was followed by two more surgeries at 9 months and 3½ years old. Another procedure, a heart catheterization, is scheduled for later this summer, with the hopes of improving his stamina.
Yet Jace is still able to play most sports with the exception of football. He wears a protective guard over his heart on the baseball diamond. And he has plans for his future, including working as an intern at Fenway Park and as an on-air analyst at ESPN.
Jace had plenty to do on his day at Fenway. He spray painted the pitcher's mound and home plate and put down the bases for that night's game. He and Pedroia went out to the Green Monster and signed their names inside the famous wall. While in the outfield, Pedroia threw batting practice and Jace cleared the wall on his 10th try.
When it came time for Jace to throw out the first pitch, that's when he finally got a little nervous.
"It was pretty cool. The only problem was there was a lot of people there," Jace said. "The only time I looked up, I looked straight back down."
He had nothing to worry about. He threw a strike and heard encouragement from the fans in the front rows as he headed back to the dugout.
Jace and his family watched the game from the Monster seats, and sure enough, Gomes managed to clear the famous wall with a home run near where they were sitting.
That's a memory Jace will always have -- among others.
"I'll remember hitting it over the Monster; that's the one thing that I loved," he said. "I can say I hit the ball over the Monster."