CHICAGO -- The letters would arrive every week in his mailbox at Wrigley Field. Chicago Cubs slugger Kyle Schwarber would carefully open the envelope, slowly read the message and try not to cry.
Sometimes, Schwarber would even wait to open it, saving them for the darkest times, when he needed him the most.
“There were plenty of those times,” Schwarber said Thursday, “but he was always there for me.
Schwarber tries to envision the atmosphere Friday night during introductions before Game 3 of the World Series when Wrigley Field plays host to a World Series game for the first time in 71 years.
He will look around the stands, perhaps seeing if he can locate his family, while the sellout crowd and national TV audience spots his bright green wristband, the one he has worn for two years in honor of his friend.
“I know he likes to say I’m his inspiration,” Schwarber said. “Really, if you want to know the truth, he’s my inspiration.”
The name is Campbell Faulkner, who lives with his parents in Queen Creek, Ariz.
He is 10 years old.
Faulkner is 4-11, weighs 64 pounds, always engaged with an oxygen tank, cough and suction machines and a team of 13 doctors trying to find a cure for a rare form of mitochondrial disease.
This is the boy who’s Schwarber’s hero.
And this is the young man who’s Faulkner’s inspiration.
“When I see what Kyle is doing,” Campbell Faulkner told USA TODAY Sports, “it gives me hope, too. No one believed he could do it. But I kept praying for him. I kept sending him letters each week, telling him he could do it.
“Now that he’s done it, I can do it, too, right?
“He gives me hope.”
Schwarber’s stunning comeback from reconstructive knee surgery six months ago is being called legendary by his teammates and front-office staff, watching him go 201 days without even swinging a bat in a game to getting three hits in seven World Series at-bats, drawing two walks and missing a Game 1 home run by inches.
“It’s just absolutely remarkable what he did over those first two games, given the fact that he’d only seen live pitching for four days," Cubs President Theo Epstein said. “We didn’t expect him to be at this point. He went out there against some of the best pitching in the world, had incredible at-bat after incredible at-bat, got on base, drove in runs, and helped us win a big ballgame.
“I’m in awe of what he did.”
Schwarber, who tore the anterior cruciate and lateral collateral ligaments in his left knee, shrugs his massive shoulders.
You want be in awe? Go check out Campbell Faulkner’s story, he says, and then come back to him.
“That’s a person you want to look up to,” says Schwarber, who met Campbell while signing autographs two years ago at the Cubs’ spring training camp in Mesa, Ariz. “He’s living life to his fullest, even though he’s got something to overcome.”
Faulkner was actually at the game the night of April 7 in Phoenix when Schwarber and center fielder Dexter Fowler collided. Schwarber went down in a heap. He was carted off the field, with his head down, and Faulkner stared ahead, not saying a word.
“When Kyle got hurt, he stopped talking,” said his mother, Carrie Faulkner. “Campbell bowed his head, took his hands out, and started praying. When the game ended, Campbell just sat there in complete silence all of the way home.”
When they arrived home, Campbell wanted to see the replay, to see if it looked as bad as it appeared. He watched it, and without uttering a word, began penning a letter to Schwarber.
“Kyle, I’m praying for you to get better," he wrote. "If you need doctors, I’ve got the best doctors in the world at the Phoenix Children’s Hospital. I want to help.”
Here’s a boy too weak to walk on his own - who needs braces just to take a few steps but otherwise is confined to a wheelchair. He has one tube constantly connected to his stomach that feeds him and a suction machine to remove the waste. He needs to swallow 13 pills a day just to survive. His medical team includes two neurologists, a pulmonary specialist, nutritionist, cardiovascular specialist, physical therapist, occupational therapist, and others whose names you can’t spell or pronounce, trying to come up with answers.
And he’s the one worrying about 23-year-old Schwarber, who needed nothing more than time to recover, with one of the brightest futures in baseball?
“Kyle and I talk all of the time what Campbell means to him,” says Shane Shepherd, Schwarber’s close friend and president of baseball operations for Dinger Bats. “There’s no question he was an inspiration.”
When Schwarber went to the Arizona Fall League last weekend, to see if it even was possible for him to play in the World Series, few people were privy to the secret.
Campbell Faulkner was one of them.
They met Saturday and Monday, each time holding one another, drawing strength from each other, before Schwarber departed.
Schwarber took a private jet to meet the Cubs in Cleveland for Game 1 of the World Series and was in the starting lineup each night. Faulkner was lying on the family room couch, watching every pitch, his body wrapped in a Cubs blanket.
“When he got that first hit, he made me happy," Campbell said. "We were cheering. My family was running around crazy. It felt just like when I met him.
“He gives me hope.
“He gives my family hope.”
It was a moment Carrie and Shane Faulkner, an airline mechanic, say they will cherish for a lifetime. They realize there are plenty of difficult times ahead. Every day is a challenge. The feeding formula costs $1,400 a month alone. Some months it’s covered by insurance. Sometimes it’s not. The insurance rules always seem to change, Carrie says.
They call themselves blessed, having a beautiful gift in Campbell, albeit an expensive one, they tease him, but a beautiful, loving child.
When Schwarber and Shepherd presented him with his own black bat last weekend, the exact one used by Schwarber, KS-10, 34 inches, 31 ounces, and autographed by Schwarber, Campbell e-mailed them a note two days later.
“Thank you so much for the black bat,” Campbell wrote. “But would you mind if I don’t keep it? I would like to donate it to my favorite charity to help other children?”
“Can you believe that?” Shepherd said. “How solid is that?”
That’s Campbell Faulkner, and when Schwarber is introduced Friday night and showered with applause from the frenzied crowd at Wrigley, you’ll be cheering for Campbell, too.
“Kyle told me that we’re in the World Series together,” Campbell said. “We made it.”