15 Athlete/Fan Moments That Will Melt Your Heart

Laura Depta@lauradeptaFeatured ColumnistAugust 19, 2014

15 Athlete/Fan Moments That Will Melt Your Heart

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    Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

    Fan access to athletes is more limited than ever before, but increased security and other restrictions haven't completely eliminated moments between sportspeople and spectators that warm the heart.

    Many fantastic non-profit organizations help bring fans and athletes together—and those interactions are indeed heartwarming and amazing. But today I’ll show you some unplanned meetings and spontaneous acts of kindness between athletes and fans.

    Perhaps it’s just a brief wave through hockey glass or a simple hug at a baseball game. Or maybe it’s an unexpected friendship born from a chance meeting at a hospital.

    Whatever it may be, good luck keeping your eyes dry by the end of this one.

Derek Jeter Hands Baseballs to Kids

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    Derek Jeter can always be counted on to make sure a young person gets a baseball.

    The Yankee captain has often been captured on film identifying a youngster from the crowd and going to some effort to make sure the chosen kid indeed gets the ball.

    In this instance, in Houston, Jeter struggled to elude adults clamoring to grab the baseball from his hands. He successfully handed the ball to a young girl in a Yankees hat.

Clint Dempsey and the Jersey

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    Clint Dempsey will do you one better, Captain, and give a young fan the shirt off his back.

    In a recent Seattle Sounders game, Dempsey approached a fan in the front row and proceeded to trade his jersey for some of the kid’s popcorn.

Grant Balfour Tribute

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    Australian closer Grant Balfour spent three seasons with the Oakland Athletics, and even though he now plays for the Tampa Bay Rays, A’s fans still love him.

    They proved as much when Balfour came in to pitch for the Rays in the 10th inning of a close game.

    The A’s played his old entrance song over the loudspeaker, and fans did the “Balfour Rage” and an Aussie chant for him.

Cam Newton's Football Donation

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    MIKE MCCARN/Associated Press

    Cam Newton has made a habit of giving away footballs, according to The Charlotte Observer.

    Newton threw a game-winning touchdown pass to Greg Olsen in a 2013 game against the Miami Dolphins.

    He promptly trotted over to the stands and gave the football to Panther fan and Auburn alumnus Kenneth Redd.

    Redd travelled to North Carolina with his family the following summer and made a stop outside the Panthers' practice facility. His hope was to see Newton entering for OTAs.

    Success! Redd saw Newton, and Newton autographed both the football he had given him and a photograph.

J.R. Smith and Brad Hennefer

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    Kathy Kmonicek/Associated Press

    J.R. Smith and Brad Hennefer first met on a golf course, and the two developed a friendship.

    Hennefer, who has Down syndrome, described Smith as a “great friend” to Jared Zwerling of ESPNNewYork.com. “I like him a lot. I'm proud of him winning the Sixth Man Award. I always follow J.R. for every game. I got NBA gear of the Knicks; I got a jacket, pants and jerseys.”

    The two have since played golf, and Hennefer has visited Madison Square Garden to see his friend in action. 

Carlos Gomez and the Hug

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    Tom Lynn/Associated Press

    This just goes to show how emotional fans can be about their teams.

    Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Carlos Gomez gave a young fan a hug before an April 2014 game at Miller Park—Carlos Gomez bobblehead day, to be exact. The fan, Jordan Hynum, started to cry in a very touching moment.

    Gomez even surprised her at a later game with an opportunity to throw out the first pitch.

Johnny Manziel Hits the Catwalk

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    Johnny Manziel first met six-year-old Charlie Dina in 2012, according to KHOU, shortly after Dina was diagnosed with Stage 4 Neuroblastoma.

    Manziel heard of the youngster’s battle and the two developed a friendship.

    That friendship grew over the next two years. Manziel and Dina have spent a lot of time together, including on the catwalk during a fundraiser for Dec My Room in Houston.  

Jeremy Guthrie Plays Catch

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    JACK DEMPSEY/Associated Press

    Twitter can be sort of cool sometimes.

    One day in April 2012, MLB pitcher Jeremy Guthrie put a call out on Twitter for someone to come play catch with him.

    Guthrie had just begun a stint with the Colorado Rockies, and he was looking to meet people in his new home, according to Thomas Harding of MLB.com.

    Woody Roseland had just returned from his doctor’s office when he saw Guthrie’s tweet. Roseland, a cancer survivor and amputee, had received good news regarding his cancer, and he responded to Guthrie, “My man! I’m downtown and have my glove. let’s do this!!”

    A short while later, he was at Coors Field playing catch with a major-league pitcher.

    Not bad.

Matt Cain and Batkid

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    Eric Risberg/Associated Press

    Yes, Batkid’s day in San Francisco was planned (beautifully by the Make-A-Wish Foundation). However, this sweet moment between him and San Francisco Giants pitcher Matt Cain was not.  

    Leukemia survivor Miles Scott spent a day in November 2013 saving San Francisco from evil villains, and he captured America’s hearts as he did it.

    The following spring, the Giants invited Batkid to throw out the first pitch on Opening Day at AT&T Park. Cain led him out to the mound, and the collective American heart melted all over again. 

Matt Kemp and Joshua Jones

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    Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Matt Kemp went above and beyond for a young fan in 2013.

    He didn’t just sign a baseball for Joshua Jones; he also gave him the shirt off his back, his hat and his cleats.

    Kemp later flew Jones, who was battling cancer, and his family to Los Angeles for a game.

Tony Kanaan and the Medallion

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    Michael Conroy/Associated Press

    IndyCar driver Tony Kanaan won his first Indianapolis 500 in 2013 with the help of a very special good-luck charm.

    Nine years prior to that race, Kanaan met a young girl in an Indianapolis hospital, according to Steve Keating of the Chicago Tribune. The girl was preparing to undergo a major brain-surgery procedure the following day.

    Kanaan gave the girl’s mother a medallion that his own mother had once given him, to protect him.

    The girl’s surgery was successful, and nine years later, she returned the medallion just days before his big victory.

Charlie Coyle and the Wave

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    Sometimes, something as small as a wave can be so meaningful.

    That’s exactly what happened with Minnesota Wild forward Charlie Coyle and a five-year-old fan in 2013.

    A boy sitting in the front row banged on the glass, attempting to get Coyle’s attention during warmups. Coyle turned and waved, and the boy’s reaction is absolutely priceless.

    The video of their exchange went viral, and the boy later got a chance to meet his hero in person.

J.J. Watt and the Robot

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    J.J. Watt has a history of being awesome.

    In 2013, Watt heard that a very special robot had been named after him. The robot belonged to young leukemia patient Cristian Beasley, who used it to attend school virtually.

    Watt decided to surprise Beasley by visiting him at his home after the “Watt the Robot” story was reported on KHOU-TV. He hung around to play catch for a while, too. 

J.J. Watt's Pretend Proposal

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    Like I said, the man has a history of this stuff.

    A little girl was caught on camera in a deep depression over the fact that she’s not old enough to marry J.J. Watt.

    Watt found out about this and decided to propose a pretend marriage for a day. He posted the adorable result on Twitter for the world to see. Go to 1:30 of the video for more. 

Adreian Payne and Princess Lacey

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    Michael Conroy/Associated Press

    Lacey Holsworth was eight years old when she lost her battle with cancer.

    In the preceding years, “Princess Lacey” had developed an unlikely but precious friendship with then Michigan State basketball star Adreian Payne.

    Payne first met Holsworth when Michigan State’s basketball team visited an area hospital. Their friendship deepened, and Lacey and her family became a staple at Michigan State games.

    Their story is moving and inspirational, and worth seeing more of here.