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Breaking Barriers essay winner attends Series

8th-grader honored at Game 2 of Fall Classic at Dodger Stadium
MLB.com @Marathoner

LOS ANGELES -- Three years after his father died of skin cancer, Tank Wright was in Commissioner Rob Manfred's suite, meeting his favorite player, Marlins slugger Giancarlo Stanton, and savoring a beautiful Wednesday night at Game 2 of the World Series at Dodger Stadium, where the Astros evened the Series at 1-1 with a 7-6 win over the Dodgers in 11 innings.

For this eighth-grader from Sylacauga, Ala., it was a moment when he carried his dad's memory with him, knowing how proud he would have been of his son.

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LOS ANGELES -- Three years after his father died of skin cancer, Tank Wright was in Commissioner Rob Manfred's suite, meeting his favorite player, Marlins slugger Giancarlo Stanton, and savoring a beautiful Wednesday night at Game 2 of the World Series at Dodger Stadium, where the Astros evened the Series at 1-1 with a 7-6 win over the Dodgers in 11 innings.

For this eighth-grader from Sylacauga, Ala., it was a moment when he carried his dad's memory with him, knowing how proud he would have been of his son.

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Tank was with his family and Sharon Robinson, daughter of Jackie Robinson, as the grand prize winner in the "Breaking Barriers: In Sports, In Life" essay contest. He won for the remarkable essay he wrote about the courage and determination he shared with his dad.

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"I think what it meant to him the most was, the fact that I didn't just back down and go hide in the corner," Tank said. "I kept going."

Tank wrote this in his essay:

"Just like Jackie Robinson, I had to rely on courage and determination during my dad's fight with cancer, and I still have to rely on that courage just to get through the day.

"If there is one thing I've learned, it's that life isn't as sweet as people say it is, but don't worry, it will get better. It may not get better tomorrow, next week or even years from now. But I promise you this: it will get better."

Sharon Robinson, who is the MLB educational programming consultant, hugged Tank as he bravely fought through an interview on the topic outside of the Commissioner's suite during the fourth inning on Wednesday.

"We were right there with Tank as he was describing his father's battle with cancer, and their coming through it as a family, and then being hit a second time, and then losing him," Robinson said. "There are a number of people on our committee who were literally crying when they read the essay. I met him and he's a cool kid, and his family is very special.

"I know he's surrounded by love, he's got a wonderful mother and a sister, and he's got some girl dogs, he has some godparents who are good to him. I know he's going to be strong and supported."

Tank said he was "speechless" when he was introduced to Stanton in the suite. The Marlins' superstar was at Game 2 after receiving the Hank Aaron Award in a pregame ceremony.

"It's been really entertaining," Tank said of his special treatment. "I met a lot of famous people. That's pretty cool. I just feel thankful that I got to experience it.

"When I first saw [Stanton], I was speechless. I didn't know what to say. I was shaking. It's just awesome."

Tank was one of two grand prize winners in the contest. Anna Howe, a fourth-grader from Tucson, Ariz., whose essay was about her struggles living with esophagitis, a chronic condition that causes inflammation of the esophagus, was honored at All-Star Week in Miami.

What will Tank's friends and classmates say back home in Alabama?

"They're probably going to be really jealous, and some of them might act like they don't like me anymore," Tank said with a smile.

The essay contest is the central component of the Breaking Barriers educational program, led by MLB, Scholastic, and Sharon Robinson. Breaking Barriers is designed to educate students in grades four through nine about the values demonstrated by Jackie Robinson as he broke baseball's color barrier in 1947, and how to apply them to their own lives.

The Breaking Barriers essay contest encourages students from across the country to write about overcoming personal obstacles or barriers through the example Robinson set forth, and the program focuses on nine values: courage, teamwork, determination, persistence, integrity, citizenship, justice, commitment and excellence.

"We started off in 30 Major League Baseball markets, and it has grown in popularity into a national program, where we get 12,000-15,000 essays a year," Sharon Robinson said. "What's beautiful for us is that people who read the essays understand the resilience in our children. They have been struggling with some difficult obstacles. Like Tank said, he didn't stop, he kept going, and his dad would be very proud of him. We are as well."

As Tank and his family departed the suite area to watch the rest of Wednesday's game, Robinson gave him a goodbye hug and reminded him what he had written in his own essay.

"It will get better each year," she said.

Mark Newman is enterprise editor of MLB.com and a baseball writer since 1990. Follow him on Twitter @Marathoner and read and join other baseball fans on his MLB.com/blogs hub.