SECAUCUS, N.J. (AP) — The best ovation of Jason Boulais’ career came a month after his final pitch.
The University of South Carolina Beaufort reliever was honored at the Major League Baseball draft Monday night after he sacrificed part of his senior season to donate bone marrow in an effort to save a young boy in France.
“I never fathomed any of this,” the 23-year-old Boulais said. “I never fathomed that I would be a match.”
Commissioner Rob Manfred told Boulais’ story shortly before announcing Boston’s pick at No. 7 overall at MLB Network studios. The timing was intentional — Boulais is a big Red Sox fan.
“We did not want Jason’s incredible gesture to mark the end, or the last chapter, in his baseball career,” Manfred said from the podium.
Seated in the crowd with his parents and sister, Boulais stood and waved as many of the former major leaguers in attendance such as Ken Griffey Jr., Mike Schmidt, Andre Dawson and John Smoltz gave him a standing ovation.
“It was awesome,” a beaming Boulais said. “Hall of Famers standing up, clapping for me. Man, wow.”
It all started last October when Boulais was on the South Carolina Beaufort campus to print out a paper for one of his classes when he noticed a tent outside the school library. “Be The Match,” operated by the National Marrow Donor Program, was there looking for potential donors.
“They came up to me,” Boulais recalled, “and they said, ‘Hey, you want to save a life?'”
Intrigued by the question, Boulais quickly responded.
“I said, ‘Yeah, why not? Let’s see what this is all about,'” he said. “Who wouldn’t want to do that?”
Boulais had the inside of his cheek swabbed a few times, and he was on his way.
“They were like, ‘We may never talk to you again,'” Boulais said. “They said, ‘We might call you in 10, 20 or 30 years. No one knows.'”
Well, it took only a few months, starting with a phone call he received in March. Boulais was told he was a preliminary match for a boy in France, so he took blood tests that later confirmed that he was a perfect match.
A procedure to remove Boulais’ bone marrow through a needle in his hip area, just a few inches from his spine, was scheduled for April 9. He got word about three weeks before that date that the young boy wasn’t doing well and the procedure had to be pushed back.
Boulais’ baseball season had already begun and the Sand Sharks were in Lakeland, Florida, to play Southeastern University when he was given a new date: May 4. So, instead of traveling to the conference tournament with his teammates, Boulais headed to Georgetown University Hospital in Washington to have the 45-minute procedure.
The Sand Sharks lost in the Sun Conference tournament, ending their season — and Boulais’ playing career. The right-hander from Port St. John, Florida, finished 1-0 with an 8.38 ERA in 10 games. In his Twitter bio, Boulais calls himself a “retired athlete.”
“I would give up my last game any day of my life to do this,” Boulais said. “I would do this again. I’d do it a million times over. There’s no regrets. When I got that phone call, I was 100 percent in. Giving a kid a second chance at life was all worth it to me.”
Because of confidentialty agreements, Boulais doesn’t know how the boy is faring. It might be at least a year before he can find out, and that’s only if the boy’s family consents to releasing that information.
“I’m very curious,” he said. “I’ve seen the ‘Be The Match’ site, and I see stories that they’ve posted about people who have donated to kids and they meet in the airport and it just gives you chills.”
Boulais’ eyes turned red and welled up as he paused, thinking about a similar meeting someday.
“I can just imagine meeting him in the airport and he just runs up to me,” Boulais said. “It brings a tear to my eye right now.”
Boulais’ mother, Simone, shook her head as she thought about the journey her son has made the last several months, from bone marrow donor to being honored by many of the players he grew up idolizing.
“I mean, this is just something that makes you proud as a parent,” she said. “It’s just amazing. I couldn’t be any prouder of my child.”
She then looked over to her son, who was sitting again next to his father and sister, watching as other players’ names were called.
“Well, it would have been nice if he had been drafted, too,” Simone said with a smile, “but this is great.”