ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — St. Petersburg-native Chloe Grimes, 8, doesn't hesitate when she lists the reasons why outfielder Brett Phillips is her favorite Tampa Bay Ray. She started with the smile he wears everywhere around the ballpark and just keeps going.
"He hits lots of home runs. He’s very nice and fun. I like how he does his airplane," Grimes smiled as she described Phillips' signature celebration move. "He’s my all-time favorite player."
Chloe's had to fight more in her young life than most people do in a lifetime. She was diagnosed with lung cancer when she was two years old. After more than 60 combined rounds of chemotherapy and radiation treatment doctors said she was cancer-free.
Then, last month, the Grimes family was floored by the news that Chloe has thyroid cancer. She's scheduled to have surgery to remove it next month, but her mother Jacquie said they are going to enjoy April as much as possible. She said the love they've received from the people of St. Pete is staggering.
"Just the amount of support that we have in our community, between the Rays, the hospital, our baseball leagues, Fossil Park, schools like St. Pete Christian, Shore Acres. They’ve all come together to rally behind this little girl once again," Jacquie said. "We’re in for a fight. We’re definitely gonna do it."
The Grimes' fight reached the national stage Tuesday night at Tropicana Field. Chloe threw out the ceremonial first pitch to Phillips and she also gave him a bracelet that reads "RALLY FOR CHLOE, OUR PRINCESS WARRIOR." Phillips told her it would bring him luck, and it certainly did.
Rays sideline reporter Tricia Whitaker was interviewing Chloe and her family during Phillips' at-bat in the third inning during the Rays' 9-8 win over Oakland. That's when Phillips launched a 2-2 pitch into the catwalk beneath the roof of Tropicana Field to give Tampa Bay a 6-3 lead.
"I was very surprised; and I loved it so much," Chloe beamed. "And I felt so happy for him. And then I figured out that he said to me 'This will give me good luck.' when I gave him my bracelet."
Phillips, a Semionle high school grad, was eager to give the media a look at some of Chloe's other good luck gifts during his postgame interview.
"She brought me her softball. I don’t know if it was her game ball- with 'Brett Phillips' on it. 'To Brett Phillips. From Chloe. - Princess Warrior.' She also wrote me a note. This was before the game," he said with grin as he pulled the presents from his locker. "She said 'Thank you so much for letting me pitch to you. Don’t know how much that meant to me. Thank you so much.'"
Phillips said meeting Chloe and learning about her fight puts a lot of things in perspective, and he said it was great to see baseball play a part in her comeback story.
"Going through what she’s going through. What an inspiration," an emotional Phillips added. "I hope she comes out of this stronger. I believe she will. I know she will. And I hope to cross paths with her again sometime soon. Thank her for the power."