Back in the game: Palm Coast 13-year-old with leukemia signs with Embry-Riddle softball team
For 13-year-old Esperanza “Essie” Bass, softball is more than just a sport. From age 8-11, the Palm Coast resident showed her competitive nature as she played for multiple travel and recreational teams. But on March 1, 2016, the possibility of ever being on a softball team again seemed to vanish. Doctors determined she had chronic myeloid leukemia, a rare blood-cell cancer that begins in the bone marrow.
After two years of chemotherapy treatment, Bass now gets to sport a gold, royal blue and white softball jersey as a part of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University softball team. She signed a National Letter of Intent with the Eagles on Monday, April 23. Bass joined the ERAU softball program through Team IMPACT, a nonprofit whose mission is to improve the quality of life for children facing life-threatening and chronic illnesses through the power of team.
While Bass still receives chemo once a day and has from chronic joint pain, low stamina and fatigue, that doesn’t show when she’s in the dugout with the other ERAU eagles — cheering on her teammates and learning from Dunne and the other players.
“I finally get to see softball again. I missed seeing it over the weekends,” Bass said. “There’s a lot of energy, a lot of happiness and cheers.”
Dunne, a Port Orange native and Spruce Creek High School Softball Hall of Famer, said she connected with Bass right away.
“She’s been our bat girl every single time she’s been at our games,” Dunne said. “She’s one of our biggest cheerleaders in the dugout. She learns the cheers with the girls, and she definitely gives us a positive light every single game that she’s here.”
By day, Bass is a sixth-grader at Rymfire Elementary School. About once a week, she gets to cheer in the dugout with the ERAU Eagles. She said she loves every second of it.
“Our family being so strong and competitive, that’s why she is where she is today,” Bass’ mother Shannon Gutierrez said. “She doesn’t moan and groan and tell people, ‘Oh, I have cancer.’”
The No. 11 is special to Bass and her family, as the date of her diagnosis added up to 11, the digits in her hospital room number added up to 11 and other occurrences. She keeps seeing 11 in her life, like players scoring 11 to win a game. “It’s a sign from angels,” Bass said.
She hopes she’ll be able to pick up a bat and play again one day, but in the meantime, she said she’s excited to be an Eagle.
“I believe this whole thing happened for a reason, so I could join this team,” Bass said.