TORONTO -- During the Yankees' June trip to Pittsburgh, Alex Rodriguez presented 18-year-old cancer patient John Challis with a baseball bat. The Yankees third baseman received something infinitely more meaningful in exchange.
Valiantly battling liver cancer after being diagnosed in June 2006 and told he had six months to live, Challis dedicated his final days to spreading a message of hope and of living life to its fullest. His words made it to the Major Leagues and beyond, striking a chord with all who interacted with him.
Challis passed away on Tuesday at his home in Freedom, Pa., news that touched Rodriguez.
"He was a very brave boy," Rodriguez said. "Very smart. He had a huge heart. I was just proud that I got to spend a whole day with him and I'm touched by the fact that he came to my apartment and spent quality time. It's something that I'll be inspired by for the rest of my life."
Fast friends after their initial meeting at PNC Park, when Challis wore a Pirates uniform and visited the Yankees' clubhouse, Rodriguez invited Challis and his family to New York to attend a July 1 game at Yankee Stadium.
Challis rode shotgun in Rodriguez's sport utility vehicle, as the All-Star navigated Park Avenue from Manhattan to the Bronx, providing Challis with his first experiences in the city of New York. Speaking with reporters on the field, Challis remarked that A-Rod was an "aggressive driver," but said he liked that.
That day, Challis wore a Yankees jersey with Rodriguez's No. 13 on the back, touring Monument Park and napping on a couch in Joe Girardi's office. His story had already captured national attention, and sparked the Courage for Life Foundation (courageforlifefoundation.org), which will provide sporting experiences for high school athletes with life-threatening illnesses.
"If I was able to make one person realize how anything can be taken away in one swift swipe, then, sort of, my word got spread," Challis said on July 1. "That makes me feel good."
Their relationship had continued into Challis' last days. A-Rod said that he had recently spoken with the courageous teenager, trading barbs about the Yankees and the Pirates, and Yankees director of media relations Jason Zillo had kept in touch with the Challis family on a regular basis.
"He was quite an inspiration," Rodriguez said.
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.