PORT CHARLOTTE — Little Ava Raab was handed the clippers late Sunday morning and asked to put the finishing touches on Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon's hair, which once again was being nearly shaved clean in an effort to fight pediatric cancer.
“No,” she said. “I got to shave Jake's head first.”
That would be Jake McGee, the Rays pitcher who shared the runway with Ava last month during the annual Fashion Funds the Cure show in Tampa. The two are buddies.
“She is ecstatic,” Ava's mom, Sandra, said.
Ava, 5, is battling Wilms' tumor, which is a malignant tumor of the kidney that occurs mostly in children under 5. Ava was diagnosed in October.
“She couldn't wait for today,” her mom said.
Neither could McGee, and Maddon, the Rays manager, who started the Fortune Favors the Bald event in 2012 to help raise money and awareness for the Pediatric Cancer Foundation.
“Ava's happy whenever I see her, always energetic,” McGee said. “It means a lot to do this and help find a cure.”
Ava, who lives in Brandon, was one of several pediatric cancer patients who helped the stylists from Sport Clips cut hair before the Rays' 8-4 victory against the Boston Red Sox at Charlotte Sports Park.
The event was held on the boardwalk in right field. Fans who donated $100 to the PCF also had their heads shaved.
Rays right fielder Wil Myers did not shave his head but walked along the boardwalk in center field and found five fans willing to go under the clippers for the cause. Myers paid their way, donating $500 to PCF.
“I loved that he did that,” Maddon said. “But I still want to see him get his hair cut. I still want to see the locks fall to the floor.”
In all, 70 people had their heads shaved, including 29 Rays players and coaches.
Team owner Stuart Sternberg, as he has done each year, was among the 70. So were team president Matt Silverman and executive vice president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman.
“It's great. I was walking up, and usually I'm one of the first ones to do it, and this year, a group had had it already,” Sternberg said. “So, it was nice to walk up and see a lot of the front-office people and the ballplayers had already had it. And everybody is smiling and feeling like it's really a part of, really, the Rays culture. It doesn't feel so outlandish anymore.”
To Maddon, Fortune Favors the Bald is as much a part of the Rays culture as dress-theme road trips, post-victory dance parties in the clubhouse and 90-win seasons.
“When you have little Ava cutting your hair, it really hits home at that point,” Maddon said. “You're a dad, you have kids and you're a grandparent, it really smacks you. Then you get to meet the parents and the grandparents and you understand how these moments impact a lot of people, man.
“People say 'Thank you' to you, which I'm not looking for at all, because truly they're the ones who have to overcome these moments. It does mean something to them. So, any little thing we can do as an organization to help, we're very happy to do so.”
Maddon also sees it as another team-building moment. Players tease each other after they get out of the chair, sure, but they unite because they united to help others.
That's why Maddon is aiming for 100 percent participation from his team, and that includes Myers and his famous locks.
“The thing I'm still looking for is all the guys, if they could just take the leap and just jump in there and do it, that little bit of risk, that little bit of discomfort, all of those things that are non-comfortable, I think benefits you when you're on the field and the moment gets hot,” Maddon said. “You're used to handling uncomfortable moments and, beyond that, for the purpose itself.”