A side of Mike Napoli you never knew

(Photo courtesy of Warner family)
Eric D. Schabell
Contributing Writer

There is always a personal side to our Red Sox players, but we often are not given the chance to appreciate what they do off the field with their fame and fortune.

This is a more lasting and human side that results from their contributions on the field.

Red Sox players have always been helping with local children and we all know about the Red Sox affiliation with the cancer fund known for the poster child of long ago called Jimmy.

What you might have missed is an ongoing side story that is Mike Napoli.

He is the big bearded power hitting first baseman with a larger than life presence in the 2013 World Champion Red Sox celebrations.

After all this World Series hype settled down a story unfolded off the field that bares telling.

A few weeks back when Napoli was about to undergo surgery for sleep apnea, one of the nurses asked him to remove a bracelet from his wrist. He refused because it meant too much to him. There was simply too much of a connection, and he rarely removes it.

The bracelet is blue.

It has hearts on it.

It says "Lacey Strong."

It is for a foundation in memory of Lacey Warner, someone who Napoli will never forget.

Lacey lost her battle with a congenital heart defect at the age of 16 in May, but in her last few months of life, Napoli tried to bring her whatever joy he could.

It all started when Lacey's mom, Debbie who knew Napoli's mother from high school. She mentioned that they were trying to raise funds for Lacey's father, Steve, to run in the 2014 Boston Marathon for Miles for Miracles. She asked if Napoli might help with getting the word out about the fund raising.

He did better than that.

Without hesitation he provided the entire sum of $4,000 so that Steve could run in tribute to his daughter.

The story goes far beyond the generous check Napoli wrote.

Last April Lacey had gone into heart failure and was airlifted from her native West Virginia to Boston Children's Hospital.

Lacey got a visitor in her hospital room.

The man happened to be her favorite baseball player.

"Mike really wanted to come see her before her surgery," said Debbie Warner. "The hospital made arrangements, and he came the day before her surgery and she thought that was the greatest thing when he walked into the room. He had sent so many balloons, and then he brought her all kinds of quilts for her bed, and pillows and T-shirts and hats and jerseys, everything autographed, and baseballs. It was great, it was just great. We took lots of pictures of them and he talked to her and talked to us and he was just so kind and personable. That was like the last fun event that Lacey really had because she never recovered from her surgery."

It is said that how a man acts when nobody is watching says a lot about a man.

Nobody was filming this.

There were no press photo opportunities (all photo's were provided by Lacey's family).

"I knew what was going on and just wanted to make her feel happy," Napoli said. "I heard she loved me as a player and was a huge fan and I tried to do whatever I could to make her happy. I still keep in touch with her parents and they came and saw me in Pittsburgh last season. I text with her mother all the time."

Fittingly, before Lacey Warner got to know Napoli, she wore No. 12 while playing in a youth baseball league in West Virginia.

"She would always look for No. 12 when she watched on TV, and she called him Mikey," said Debbie Warner. "She would clap for him and we would sit here and watch the Red Sox games. We took her to the game [in 2013] when the Red Sox won the American League Championship Series, and we spent a whole bunch of time with Mike Napoli's family before the game."

They were told she would not live beyond her first year.

The 16 years that the Warner family had with Lacey is seen as a gift.

"They were just amazing people in Boston. We'll have a relationship with them forever, just like we will Mike. It's very special," said her father Steve.

Napoli will be honored Dec. 2 with an award at the annual Champions for Children Dinner at Children's Hospital, not just for his kindness with Lacey Warner, but the work he has done to make a difference for many children in need.

"I just tried to put a smile on her face," said Napoli. "I like to do that. I do a lot of stuff with Boston Children's Hospital, with the kids over there. I just love kids and it's what I like to do."

Bet you never knew that side of Mike Napoli?

Post a comment or via twitter @erics_redsox with your thoughts.

More by Eric D. Schabell