A special visit with a Braves catcher who reached out before their child passed away

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A special visit with a Braves catcher who reached out before their child passed away

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Braves catcher Kurt Suzuki takes batting practice at Champion Stadium on Thursday, Feb. 16, 2017, at the ESPN Wide World of Sports in Lake Buena Vista. Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com

Atlanta Braves catcher Kurt Suzuki’s involvement in a social-media campaign on behalf of a 3-year-old with Stage IV Neuroblastoma inspired a slew of professional athletes to also step up on behalf of young Trucker Dukes. 

Trucker Dukes lived on in the island of Maui, where Suzuki was born and grew up, and his parents still live. Through family connections, Suzuki and his wife, Renee, learned about the adorable 3-year-old, and decided to aid the family in their plight, and raise awareness about pediatric cancer. 

Sadly, Trucker died in March. Trucker’s family has embarked on a tour of appreciation visiting different cities and people who supported the family during their fight and journey, and they performing random acts of kindness in Trucker’s name along the way. Trucker’s family is here in Atlanta today, making a stop in Atlanta for a Braves game Friday night, a game when Suzuki came through with a clutch two-run homer in the eighth inning, helping lift the team for a stirring 7-4 win over the Nationals.  The Dukes family is staying with the Suzuki family. 

“Our friendship grew and so did our desire to raise awareness for pediatric cancer,” said Renee Suzuki in an e-mail before the game. “Kurt and I have 3 small children of our own. For this reason, we have become extremely passionate about bringing awareness and helping families while they embark on the most difficult time of their lives.” 

Dear Trucker, 

First off, I heard about what happened a couple of weeks ago at your brother Jedidiah’s birthday party. I heard about how you and a family member were sitting inside your house while your brothers and sister were outside with the other kids, playing. I can’t imagine what that must have been like for you — a three-year-old kid, stuck inside the house because the tumors in his leg had impaired his ability to walk. 

And you could actually hear the other kids — the ones who weren’t confined indoors by cancer — outside playing and having fun. 

Then, when the pressure in your swollen leg got to be too much, as it often does, you screamed in pain. Everybody outside heard you, and your dad came running in and said, “What’s up, buddy? What do you need?” 

And instead of crying about the pain, you made a simple request. 

“I want to go outside.” 

You hadn’t been outside in two weeks, and you decided that that was long enough. You weren’t going to let cancer keep you from being a kid. At least not on that day, your brother’s eighth birthday. 

So your dad took you outside. 

 When you got out into the yard, you said to your dad, “I want to shoot the hose!” So your dad got the garden hose for you, and after being stuck in the house for two weeks, you sat outside on your dad’s lap for a full 10 minutes, laughing, playing and spraying the other kids with water as they ran by. You’ve been through so much — brain surgery, chemo, radiation — but your cancer doesn’t define you. You’re still a three-year-old, and your instincts are to go outside and just play and be a normal kid. 

 That’s a kind of strength that I can’t even imagine. 

 Maybe you wanted to shoot the hose to pretend you were a firefighter, like your dad. Maybe you wanted to pretend you were coming to somebody’s rescue. Maybe you wanted to pretend you were a hero. 

 Well let me tell you, Trucker. You don’t have to pretend. 

 Because you are a hero.

“Personally, the most important aspect to this story for Kurt and myself, is the courage this family had throughout the 2.5 years. During this time, they were teaching others how to live the right way, to love better and stronger and they taught this while they were dealing with the most horrific parental pain imaginable. The entire family are our heroes and the magnitude of love that they exude is immeasurable,” said Renee. 

Kurt and Renee said they wanted to raise awareness to low funding for pediatric cancer – it is estimated only 4 percent of federal funding goes towards pediatric cancer. Renee said the main beneficiary of their family’s foundation -- the Kurt Suzuki Family Foundation is the Kapiolani Medical center, pediatric division. 

With the help several major league baseball players, Renee and Kurt created a video that includes over 75 Major League Players giving a "Shaka" to Trucker to show love and support.  There is also a Team Trucker page on Facebook.

“The battle he fought, and the how he fought it and his personality just shines through,” said Kurt Suzuki. “He was always positive for the most part unless he was undergoing through treatment that made him feel crummy.”

Trucker’s mother, Shauna Dukes, said her family embarked on a #TruckerRidesWithUs tour which started in San Francisco on April 1 to spend time together as a family, and to give back to strangers in Trucker’s honor -- paying for their coffee, gas, groceries, a bill at a restaurant in hopes it will inspire others to pay it forward. 

“Our older children gave a lot over the last two and half years of Trucker being in treatment and we wanted to bless and pour into them and their hearts,” Shauna said about the trip. 

The family has traveled the coast of California, visited the Grand Canyon, and spent some time in Arizona, among other places during a trip which will last for several months. 

“Our message to people simply is don't take life for granted!!” Shauna Dukes said in an e-mail. “None of us are promised tomorrow so let’s live like that. Let’s love one another better and be a blessing wherever you are! Let’s make our lives count for something bigger than just ourselves, even when circumstances are really hard!” 

The Dukes have a daughter, Indiana, who is 11, Mac, who is 9, and Jedi who is 8. Trucker was the youngest with his mother adding he “will forever be 3. “

The Heavy Hitters performed at SunTrust Park’s Battery Park before the first pitch at the Braves’ opening day. (Erica A. Hernandez/AJC)
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