Kindness: the quality or state of being kind; a kind act; as defined by Webster’s Dictionary. If you have ever been to a baseball game at Loyola Marymount in the past few years, there’s a pretty good chance you saw Jack Steinberg and witnessed kindness in action. Jack is thirteen-years-old, and has been interested in LMU baseball since he was 3 or 4. Jack was born with Optic Nerve Hypoplasia (ONH), an eye condition described as “holes in the vision”. He also has an orthopedic impairment which makes walking and standing challenging. But, none of that has stopped him from loving the team and coming to every game and practice he can. In fact, LMU baseball and the players have contributed greatly to Jack’s overall wellbeing, and he to theirs.
Jack’s relationship with LMU baseball began almost a decade ago. Jack’s mom, Ivey Steinberg said, “We live close enough to the ballpark that we can hear when practice is going on. I knew Jack was a huge sports fan, so we headed over.” Initially, Ivey was wary about bringing a four-year-old to a baseball practice where they didn’t know anybody. However, they were immediately welcomed by Justin Bunkis and Michael Glomb, both seniors at the time. Ivey said the two of them took an immediate liking to Jack.
About their first meeting, Justin Bunkis ’08 said, “We were a little bit surprised when we saw them. We didn’t know what they were doing there. Actually, I don’t think Jack and Ivey knew what they were doing there. But it was great. You know, most of the people at college baseball practices are just the team, the coaches and sometimes major league scouts. It’s a lot of pressure. It seems more like a job than a game. With Jack in the stands, it reminded us that we play baseball because we love it. To have people who were really excited to see us play took the pressure off.” The initial kindness of two players saying “Hello” began a tradition that would continue for years.
Then head coach, Frank Cruz, had each of his players introduce themselves to Jack. Coach Cruz then invited Jack and Ivey to come back again and to come back often. Jack and Ivey became regular fixtures at the baseball field. They could be seen sitting in the stands for every practice and scrimmage. Ivey recalled, “Jack loved it! He refused to sit down.” In addition to fascinating Jack, watching baseball helped him physically. When the Steinbergs began coming to LMU, Jack’s right side was considerably weaker. This weakness prevented him from being able stand up straight. Throughout several weeks of watching practice, both Ivey and the players on the team noticed that Jack was gradually getting stronger and could stand almost completely upright. In retrospect, Ivey noted, “He was so riveted by these practices. He would stand for 9 innings. He would stand for a doubleheader. It was remarkable. Coming to the practices became a physical therapy we hadn’t expected.”
The gain in physical strength wasn’t the only benefit. Jack was born with 20/200 vision in one eye and 20/800 vision in the other. After a few weeks of watching LMU practices, Jack’s eyesight seemed to be improving. In fact, it improved to 20/80 in his good eye. The Steinbergs were told that if Jack wanted to drive a car someday, he could. The Steinbergs couldn’t figure out the cause for the drastic improvement as they’d always thought there was nothing they could do to help Jack’s eyes. ONH is the leading cause of blindness in children and cannot be cured with lenses. When Ivey mentioned it to Justin Bunkis, he answered immediately, “Of course his eyesight is better. I’m not surprised at all. We all see how he tracks the ball when we play.” Ivey then asked Jack’s doctor if it was possible that baseball was the reason for the change. The answer: definitely. Today, Jack’s vision in his good eye is 20/20.
Current head coach, Jason Gill, has continued the tradition originally started by Coach Cruz and the ’07-’08 Lions. Each year the freshman and transfer players come to meet Jack at the first scrimmage of the year. It is amazing to witness each player introduce themselves and tell Jack how glad they are to meet him. Coach Gill says, “It’s a special relationship the guys have with Jack. It provides some perspective about how he sees the game, versus how we see it. I think, in a way, it motivates the players to do better for Jack.” When asked about the Jesuit teaching of being “men and women for others” and what comes with that, Gill said, “ Service and kindness are central, and everyone here at LMU is conscious of that.”
While it seems that Jack has received all the kindnesses bestowed by LMU Baseball and those associated with the team, the truth is, they receive just as much in return. One of Jack’s favorite players, sophomore infielder, Niko Decolati said, “Jack is an incredible person. I have never met someone so enthusiastic and cheerful in my life. Every time I take a glimpse at the bleachers, I see Jack with a smile on his face. His constant level of happiness reminds me to just keep smiling because I am alive and able to play another day of baseball. When I fail, and get mad at my mistake, I realize that things could be so much worse. Jack reminds me to take the field every day with a level of purpose and gratefulness, because it could very well be my last. I am so thankful to Jack and his continuous support of the team. He is an awesome dude, and I am glad I have had the opportunity to meet him and that I get to play in front of him.”
For the LMU baseball players, being a team means more than just baseball: it is showing up each and every day and having the opportunity to say, “Hi, Jack” to their number one fan – Jack Steinberg.