It was 1991 and like most high school seniors at the time Kris Watson’s life consisted of girls, mullets and sports. The Du Quoin, Illinois native was an excellent pitcher on the varsity baseball team and he was entertaining offers from colleges to pitch on the next level.
But in February of that year, while at a friend’s house he noticed a lump on his neck and grew concerned. Soon after going to the doctor, his fears were confirmed and at 17 he was diagnosed with cancer.
While in St. Louis for treatment one week his sister visited a local store and picked up a Blues shirt for her ailing brother. He threw that shirt on one day and Gino Cavallini was at the same hospital doing some work in the community, as the Blues have always been noted for doing. His nurse told him that there was a Blues player in the hospital visiting kids and asked if he wanted to meet the player.
Gino Cavallini played 454 games for the St. Louis Blues scoring 91 goals and 120 assists for 211 points.
The young Watson was well aware of the emerging superstar for the St. Louis Blues, Brett Hull. But his knowledge of the Blues and hockey in general did not extend very far past the young goal scorer. But he was an All-American boy and he enjoyed all sports. So of course he would want to meet a professional athlete.
Cavallini walked into the room wearing jeans, t-shirt and a ball cap looking like any regular guy Watson had ever seen before that day. The Blues forward shook the young boy’s hand and to this day Watson cannot get over the swollen knuckles and overall size of his hands. Cavallini was apologetic to the boy and his mother for not knowing another Blues fan was going to be there on that day. He let them know that the nurse had told him that Watson would be back at a later date and that he would have something there waiting for the kid.
Watson came back to St. Louis a few weeks later for his first regimen of radiation treatments. He was weak, tired and feeling alone. Things got better if only for a moment as the nurses brought him a stick that Cavallini had used and then autographed. He couldn’t believe it, this professional athlete made a promise to a young sick kid from southern Illinois and he kept his word and delivered.
From then on Watson was a Blues fan. It took him a few years to join the die-hard ranks, but he was hooked. He has a basement office devoted to the ‘Note. He has countless pictures, pucks, jerseys and autographs displayed but nothing more proudly than the stick and the shirt his sister bought him that fateful day.
Watson, now a grown man of almost 40 with a wife and three children is in good health. To the fan the stick was a wonderful gesture, but what stands out to him most is that when Cavallini was in his room it was just him, no agent or assistant to help him remember what he had promised.
Watson has met Cavallini once since then, but in his words he was, “a nervous, but grateful wreck of a person.”
Stories like this seem almost commonplace for hockey players. For as overwhelmed as the young patient was to receive anything from a professional athlete, the player probably could not fathom how he, a stranger, could do anything to brighten one of this kid’s darkest days. We all love the actual game that takes place within those boards, but tales like these are what gives this game a sense of community.