Detroit Tigers third baseman Brandon Inge maintains hero status at C.S. Mott Children's Hospital
Tommy picks up a plastic bat and locks it into the ready position, mimicking the hitting style of Detroit Tigers' third baseman Brandon Inge, who happens to be standing a few feet away.
"What's THAT?" Inge says, a broad smile stretched across his face.
"Your stance," Tommy responds.
Inge tosses a pitch and with a mighty swing, Tommy wallops the offering into a crowd of on-lookers who have stopped to watch the one-on-one confrontation. Inge jerks his head to watch the ball fly and can't help but laugh.
Once again, Tommy Schomaker has found a way to make Brandon Inge's day.
The young Oakland County boy and Inge were to have met in early June when Inge was scheduled to make one of his routine visits to C.S. Mott Children's Hospital.
But June 3 ended up being the day Tommy's father, Mike, received news that a heart was available for his son. Tommy needed a transplant immediately.
Tommy's brother, Matthew figured Inge needed to know why Tommy couldn't see him. So Matthew waited out the autograph seekers and the picture-taking and told Inge Tommy's story.
Inge, a regular visitor to Mott's, told Matthew he'd be back to see his brother.
Mike Schomaker was skeptical. But three weeks later, Inge returned to the hospital and paid Tommy a visit. The two visited for an hour. Within 15 minutes, Inge had given Tommy's family his cell phone number, his wife's cell phone number and a personal invitation to a private suite at Comerica Park.
The timing couldn't have been better.
Tommy had grown tired of being in the hospital, having undergone the tests and other procedures that children at the hospital endure. But Inge's visit changed everything.
Like he had with other Mott patients, Inge asked Tommy to autograph his arm as a way for him to remember his new friend during that night's game against the Chicago Cubs.
And that night, with the Tigers trailing 2-1 in the seventh inning, Inge delivered a two-run homer, putting Detroit ahead to stay. As soon as the ball cleared the wall, Tommy jumped out of bed, causing his bedside heart monitor to go crazy. His nurses had to settle the young boy down.
Inge had come through for another one of Mott's patients. To Tommy's family, it meant everything.
"I want to scream from the mountain tops what a stand-up, real, sincere individual Brandon Inge is because of the impact it's had on my son," Mike Schomaker said Wednesday at an Mott event honoring Inge and his wife, Shani.
For the next month, everywhere Tommy went, nurses, doctors and his fellow Mott patients wanted to talk about Inge's home run. Suddenly, his medical appointments didn't seem so painful - thanks to his new friend.
"It was just a lift for him," Mike Schomaker said. "People think it's nice when the athletes come in - it's a one-day lift. It's so much more than a one-day lift. It's been a month and a half lift for him."
Inge spent Wednesday morning at Mott, where construction is continuing on a new $750 million children's hospital facility that will be completed in 2012. All but $23 million of the funds needed to build the 1.1 million square-foot hospital have been raised, according to Bob Anderson, director of children's and women's health at the hospital.
Last year, Inge and his wife, who live in Dexter, made a $100,000 donation to help fund a pediatric cancer infusion center. But rather than put their names on it, the Inges held a naming contest for the unit, which led to the space being called The Dugout.
Hospital officials declared Wednesday "Inge Day." Wednesday's festivities included a kids parade, vendors offering hot dogs and popcorn and an appearance by Tigers' mascot, Paws.
For Inge, who prefers to remain under the radar during his visits, the day offered plenty of smiles and another opportunity to spend time with the Mott's patients. The visit came less than a week after Inge hit a home run against the Tampa Rays after visiting a 5-year-old patient at Mott named Noah.
Noah asked Inge to hit him a home run. So that night, like he had with Tommy, Inge had Noah's name written on his arm. When he got back to the dugout, all of the emotion that came from his visit with Noah earlier in the day escaped and Inge began to cry.
"That hadn't happened before," Inge said Wednesday. "If anyone put in my situation didn't show any emotion there, they probably didn't have a pulse."
The visit comes in the middle of the Tigers' chase for an American League Central Division title. Inge said despite his focus on helping his team win, visits like Wednesday's provide the chance to keep his priorities in order.
And when he returns home and sees his own two sons, Tyler and Chase, Inge finds he has a new appreciation for healthy children.
"Every time I leave here, I appreciate my children's health," Inge said. "What (families) go through here must be tough and God bless them with the ability to deal with something a situation like this.
"They're better people than I am."
Jeff Arnold covers sports for AnnArbor.com. He can be reached at 734-623-2554 or firstname.lastname@example.org