For a 5-year-old boy who is still learning to write, in a generation where nearly everything is digital, Andrew Oberle is finding serious value in the handwritten word.
Late last year, Andrew wrote a letter to Gov. Larry Hogan, giving him advice on cancer treatment, then shared the stage with the governor when he announced his non-Hodgkin's lymphoma was in remission. Andrew himself is battling leukemia.
And as part of a Casey Cares trip in which Andrew; his father, Brian; and Brian's father, Ed, were in Sarasota for a pair of Orioles spring training games last week, he enlisted a new friend to deliver his latest handwritten note.
Orioles first baseman Chris Davis celebrated his 30th birthday Thursday in Sarasota, and got a handwritten card from Oberle that read, "I'm so happy you're turning 30," delivered personally by Oberle's favorite player, second baseman Jonathan Schoop.
It was all part of an experience that Brian Oberle said the entire family would cherish.
"He's not 14, he's not 18, he's 5," Brian said. "Unfortunately, the circumstances are such that I'm just getting it now, thanks to Casey Cares, but you don't appreciate it until you're there. My dad might not be here five years from now. Three generations of the Oberles — it's pretty cool."
The Orioles and Casey Cares set the Oberles up with tickets for Wednesday's game against the Pittsburgh Pirates and Thursday's against the Minnesota Twins — both wins.
To Andrew, his father said, the experience was like any other at an Orioles game. Andrew clapped along to the ubiquitous ballpark anthem, "Happy"; shouted "O" during the national anthem; and cheered for a hybrid of relish and ketchup — ret-chup — in the hot dog race on TV.
When his father asked Andrew whether he thought he was good luck for Schoop, who hit a home run Wednesday, Andrew replied that Schoop succeeded because he works hard.
Thursday, however, was the big day of the trip. They got on the field during batting practice and met Orioles stars like Schoop, catcher Caleb Joseph, shortstop J.J. Hardy and reliever Brian Matusz. Matusz is an ambassador for Casey Cares, and hand-delivered a bat signed by Schoop to Andrew.
Andrew slept with the bat that night at the hotel, and tracked it coming out of the cargo hold of their airplane once they arrived home in Baltimore to ensure that the bat had come back from Florida, too.
The trip also included a trip to the beach, which Andrew said was particularly fun. His father appreciated a moment when, after another boy destroyed the sand castle Andrew was building, Andrew asked him to play and help rebuild it.
But all the trip's moments pale in comparison to when Schoop, on his way from the clubhouse to the dugout, heard Brian Oberle shout his thank-yous for the autographed bat, then "walked right over and talks to [Andrew] like they're best friends."
The trip was a welcome break from Andrew's treatment cycle. He has a monthly spinal tap that affects his walking and leaves his back sore for a week, and he was battling some of the symptoms on the trip to Sarasota.
There was also a scare with his liver last month that, with the trip looming, provided a bit of a "reset."
"He looks good," Brian Oberle said. "He's doing pretty well. … When you get a reset and you know this trip is coming, if he wants a little more Hershey spread, if he wants to have an Icebreaker [mint], if he wants to stay up until 8 or 9 [p.m.], you push that limit."
Casey Cares founder and executive director Casey Baynes was on the trip with the Oberles.
"You kind of live scan to scan, month to month, but there's long-term impact," Baynes said. "Casey Cares can't cure anything, but we can help you compartmentalize. We can help you make little moments that will make lasting memories, and that's where we call it. It's just there's so much more to it."