OVERLAND PARK, Kan. -- They're becoming the pride of Kansas City's sports community. The Kansas City Royals, last year's American League champions, begin Thursday knowing they can clinch their first divisional championship since 1985. To do so, the Royals must beat Seattle while having Cleveland beat the second-place Minnesota Twins.
A special honor awaits Royals left-fielder Alex Gordon before Thursday's home game at Kauffman Stadium. He's the Royals nominee for the annual Roberto Clemente Award, which is given annually to baseball's most civically-active players for their contributions to the community.
One family from Overland Park says Gordon made a difference in the life of their sick child, even though the two never actually met face-to-face.
For the Sprinkle family from Overland Park, a cell phone filled with photographic memories is a reminder of a year-long struggle. Playing baseball was 12-year old Jacob Sprinkle's top priority, until he was diagnosed with a form of non-Hodgkins lymphoma. Beginning in August 2014, Jacob and his parents, Eric and Laura, contended with nine months of intensive cancer treatments, and his family confesses, at times, they feared the worst.
"When your child looks you in the eye, and says, 'Mom, if I go to heaven, will you come visit me,' that's a tough day," Laura Sprinkle said.
"I was scared because of the needle I was seeing," Jacob Sprinkle, a student at Oxford Middle School in Overland Park. "I didn't like them poking me with the needle a lot."
Jacob was too sick from his cancer treatments to play with his team, an under-11 group from Natural Baseball Academy in Olathe. His teammates kept his spirit alive by wearing his number four on the sleeves of their jerseys. Sprinkle, who says he prefers to play center field, says he modeled his own jersey number after the one Alex Gordon wears.
Gordon, a four-time American League Gold Glove winner, was invited to one of the Naturals' games, as money was collected for Alex's Lemonade Stand, a national pediatric cancer charity, for which Gordon and the Royals have actively raised money.
"(Jacob) couldn't come, but he got to FaceTime with (Gordon)" Laura Sprinkle said.
Gordon, along with retired Royals outfielder Les Norman, took a few moments to chat with Jacob via video chat from the site of that event, while Jacob was confined to a bed as he recovered from cancer treatment. All the while, Gordon had his own game at Kauffman Stadium to prepare for that night.
"He was so classy and giving of his time," Laura Sprinkle recalled. "(Jacob) had the biggest smile on his face."
"He does a lot for kids with cancer, " Jacob Sprinkle said. "He helped me a lot."
Gordon's efforts at one summertime baseball tournament helped raise $34,000 -- all of which went toward pediatric cancer research efforts. Gordon, 31, will officially be recognized as the Royals nominee for the Clemente Award before tonight's game against Seattle at Kauffman Stadium. The winner will be announced during the upcoming Major League Baseball postseason.