Three days before Taylor Whitfield’s 13th birthday, his world came crashing down. His father, Matthew, was in a deadly car crash that killed him instantly and wounded his 14-year-old half-sister, Chloe.
The loss looming over the family and the stress of having a child in the hospital during a pandemic meant there wouldn’t be a party — no balloons, no streamers, no friends coming over to celebrate his first day as a teenager.
Until a family friend got an idea to give him a little celebration so his only memories of turning 13 weren’t about death and injury.
Melissa Thornton called the Trash Pandas to see if she could purchase a family tour of the facility. The season was postponed due to the coronavirus, but the team’s arrival in Huntsville is still largely anticipated by baseball fans from around the area.
“Taylor is a fantastic softball player and is on travel teams — which, of course, are suspended due to the pandemic,” Melissa said. “I thought maybe I could purchase a special, behind-the-scenes tour of the new Trash Pandas baseball stadium. I called and sure enough they do offer those types of tours for sale. But as I gave the details, (the Trash Pandas employee) got almost as tearful as I was. She asked if she could check on some things and call me back. When she did, I was blown away by the kindness and generosity of all the marketing team and owners of this baseball organization offered.”
Instead of allowing the family to purchase a tour of the stadium, the Trash Pandas decided to jump in and celebrate Taylor’s birthday for free. In addition to the tour, Taylor got to go on the field, in the locker room, and even meet the owners and their dogs.
“We were one of the first people that that family thought to reach out to,”said Lindsey Knupp, vice president of marketing, promotions and entertainment for the Trash Pandas. “We felt so blessed that they thought to call us, and we were able to provide something to keep his mind off of everything he’s going through. … This gave him that little bit of excitement back in what he loves to do.”
Taylor, an avid sportsman, was also invited to participate in batting practice in addition to their youth baseball camp next week — all free of charge to the family.
Chloe was able to Facetime from the hospital as her brother toured the stadium and will get to meet Sprocket, the Trash Pandas mascot, when she’s feeling a little better.
Taylor’s mom, Laura, said the team went above and beyond for Taylor’s birthday.
“I would have never expected them to do something that special and be that … welcoming,” Laura said. “They were like we knew each other forever, personable. … He got a jersey and all kinds of stuff. … Of course we’re all sad and everything, but I think that that definitely helped him have a better birthday. I know it made him have a way better birthday than he would have had. … They were wonderful.”
They might not be playing baseball right now, but the Trash Pandas are already giving back to Huntsville.