After gold lights on Zakim bridge, NH family meets Red Sox pitcher

A couple weeks ago, I shared with you a story about Tony Stoddard, a New Hampshire man whose son, Cole, died of a rare form of cancer last year at the age of 5. He rallied the Massachusetts Department of Transportation to illuminate the Leonard P. Zakim Bunker Hill Memorial Bridge gold for a week, to bring awareness for childhood cancer — and to help alleviate the devastating memories he had of crossing the bridge while taking his child to the hospital.

After the column, Stoddard, his wife, and their two surviving children were invited to a Red Sox game by pitcher Jon Lester, himself a lymphoma survivor.

Stoddard and his family sat four rows behind home plate.

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An e-mail from Stoddard:

[Jon Lester] contacted me ... to tell me how touched he was by my son Cole’s story and my mission to honor Cole by doing everything I can to increase childhood cancer awareness. Jon invited my family to last Sunday’s Red Sox game as his guests where he had seats for us four rows behind home plate so that everyone watching the game could see our families gold awareness shirts we wore for the game.

Before the game we were able to meet with Jon in the clubhouse where we talked about my mission to “go gold in September” and also Jon’s organization Short for never quit, “NVRQT” is the voice to support kids in their battle against cancer and inspire researchers working endlessly towards a cure. Jon being a survivor of cancer has devoted himself to raising awareness of the #1 killer by disease of our nation’s children and helping children battling cancer and their families while they are undergoing treatment. His goal like mine is to see greater funding and research be given to help put an end to the monster that is childhood cancer...

If you listen to sports talk shows you get an image of some athletes that is often wrong. I can tell you that Jon Lester is one of the most kind and caring athletes I have ever met. He spent a good amount of time talking and joking with Cole’s twin brother Troy and his sister Tara. He also listened with true compassion as we talked about Cole’s battle with cancer.

Since my son Cole passed away from cancer on January 20, 2012 I look at the world differently. My priorities and values have changed. I was born in East Boston and have always been a fan of all the New England teams. I still love watching the Red Sox, Bruins, Patriots, and Celtics but now whether they win or lose isn’t as important to me. Of course I would rather they win but what matters more to me is what the athletes do off the field when the games are over. I have found that there are so many athletes who devote a great deal of their time to helping children through various causes. They are the true champions. Jon Lester is one of those champions, and I will always be grateful for the kindness and generosity he displayed to my family.