This Day in History: Baseball player Jim Rice’s heroism at Fenway Park

On this day in 1982, a baseball player saves the life of a four-year-old boy. Boston Red Sox left fielder Jim Rice had been in the midst of a nationally televised baseball game when he saw trouble befall young Jonathan Keane.

Rice immediately rushed out of the dugout and into the stands.

The Keane family had been excited to visit Fenway Park that day. “We had been given some really great seats, right next to the dugout in the second row,” Tom later described. “We were really excited to be at the ballpark, close to the players and close to the action.”

But then a foul ball slammed off one player’s bat. “It was just a rocket,” Tom said of that foul ball. “You couldn’t even see it.” In fact, Tom at first thought the ball had hit the side of the dugout.

But it hadn’t. Tom turned to find blood streaming down the side of his son’s head. “The next thing I remembered was Jim Rice picking him up,” Tom later said.

Rice had acted quickly, later estimating that he reached the young boy in less than 10 seconds. He leapt into the stands, grabbing Jonathan before anyone else could react. He carried the boy down into the Red Sox dugout, with Tom and Jonathan’s little brother following close behind.

The Red Sox medical staff was the fastest way to get help—and Jim Rice made it happen. Jonathan was soon bundled into the ambulance that had been on standby for baseball players. Boston Children’s Hospital was only one mile away, which meant that Jonathan was in neurosurgery fast—a mere 30 minutes after he’d been hit.

The bleeding on his brain could be relieved quickly, before permanent damage was done.

The Keane family credits Rice with saving Jonathan’s life. “[Y]ou had a young child,” Tom later described, “his left skull is fractured open. It is bleeding profusely. If it continued to bleed, God knows what would have happened.”

Instead, Jonathan survived. Indeed, just one year later, a five-year-old Jonathan returned to Fenway Park and threw out the first pitch. Miraculously, follow-up CTs showed that the damage to his brain had completely healed itself. “The doctors were really at a loss to explain why that was,” Tom told a reporter. “But he thrived as a young kid and he’s thriving as a young adult.”

Many years after these events, Rice was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Nevertheless, that athletic achievement takes second place in his mind to the events of this day so long ago.

“I’ve hit home runs,” Rice said at the time. “I’ve driven in runs. But as far as something that stands out, it’s probably the picture when I went up into the stands and took the kid out of the stands who was hit by a foul ball. . . . I probably saved his life. That’s one of the most important things I’ve accomplished in the game of baseball.”

He did what he did, he said, because “being a parent, being a father . . . . If that was my child, I would want somebody to react the same way.”

Heroes aren’t found only on the battlefield. They come in all walks of life, don’t they?