CHICAGO -- Jeremy Jeffress has firsthand experience with the importance of those in the medical field, given his own battle with seizures stemming from epilepsy since his youth. The pitcher hopes people know not to take doctors and nurses for granted, especially now during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
On Wednesday, Jeffress had a question for the medical staffers he met at Banner -- University Medical Center in Phoenix, where he brought a food truck to deliver meals to hospital workers. He wanted to know if anyone in line worked in the neurology department, where he has been cared for at Banner Health.
"One nurse just went crazy and was like, 'I'm the one!'" Jeffress said with a chuckle during a phone conversation on Thursday afternoon.
That gave them a chance to connect in conversation in a more personal way, during a visit aimed at showing appreciation for front-line workers. Jeffress, who helped take orders and cook seafood plates during Wednesday's stop, fed around 70 staffers, including doctors and nurses helping patients and families impacted by COVID-19.
Jeffress -- signed to a one-year contract to be part of the Cubs' bullpen -- wore a Chicago warm-up shirt and Cubs hat, donned an apron and wore a protective mask. After helping make the food and assemble the plate inside his J.J.'s Bread and Butter seafood truck, he called out the names of workers and delivered the meals personally.
"It's something that is a passion of mine -- when I'm cooking," Jeffress said. "It's just seeing everybody come together in one place, and just be happy for even just a couple moments. And just to understand that they're appreciated, that their work is not going unnoticed.
"People don't really understand how good they have it until they really see what's going on. These people get up each and every day and they're around probably the worst viruses, the worst sicknesses each and every day
"And just to give them a little bit of break from it, and to see how happy they still are just to be there, it's gracious, man."
Even something as simple as a visit from a food truck does mean something to the workers right now.
"Part of my service line are COVID units," Veronica Carmack, director of nursing at Banner Health, said in an interview provided by the hospital. "And they're tired, they're stressed. And to feel the love and support from the community and from everyone around, it just means the world to them. It brightens their day.
"The food trucks, the coffee, just all these little things make a really big difference in the course of their day."
The food truck that Jeffress helps run has its roots in his childhood.
Growing up in South Boston, Va., Jeffress stopped by Breedlove's Seafood truck often in his neighborhood. He said he used to smell the fried seafood while he was playing in a local park and it was hard to resist picking up some fish, shrimp or scallops.
"I'd go to the park every day, bro," he said. "And then start smelling it and go get me a little plate."
Breedlove's is still operating, and is now located even closer to Jeffress' childhood home.
"It actually moved locations, like, two doors down from my house," Jeffress said. "I'm like, 'Why couldn't he do this when I was a little kid?'"
Eventually, Jeffress went to work with Breedlove Ford's son, Al, on expanding to a new truck. They acquired a vehicle from a Texas-based company, modified it inside and out and had it up and running outside Miller Park and around Milwaukee in 2019 when Jeffress pitched for the Brewers. After last season, they moved the truck to the Phoenix area, where the reliever now lives.
With the baseball season on hold, Jeffress has been trying to find places where he can help out with his truck. Maybe that is downtown for people who don't want to venture too far from home or work. As was the case with Wednesday's stop, Jeffress wants to also bring his truck to help out essential and front-line workers.
Jeffress is one within a group of Cubs players who have found ways to contribute to various causes during the global crisis.
Anthony Rizzo has utilized his foundation to deliver thousands of meals and supplies across multiple states to hospital workers and families in need. Jason Heyward donated $100,000 to MASK Chicago, which is collecting supplies and meals for affected families, and another $100,000 to the Greater Chicago Food Depository.
Javier Báez helped provide meals to children in Puerto Rico. Daniel Descalso and Steven Souza Jr. teamed with players around MLB on the Home Plate Project to deliver more than four million meals to kids in need. Kyle Schwarber has delivered food to first responders. Ian Happ has partnered with Connect Roasters to raise money for COVID-19 relief.
The list goes on.
"It's huge," Jeffress said, "because once we're in the baseball season, we're really focusing on baseball and trying to win a championship. But whenever we have the time to get out and show our communities some love, we try to the best that we can. And we have fun doing it."
Jeffress has been staying ready for an MLB season, too. The right-hander has been throwing either a bullpen session or doing a live BP workout every three days. He has been able to do the rest of his workouts at home. And if there is a baseball season this year, Jeffress not only is looking forward to getting to work out of the Cubs' bullpen, but possibly also identifying a new spot for his food truck.
"Wrigleyville," he said. "Definitely."