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Essay contest a catharsis for grieving family

Essay contest a catharsis for grieving family

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The essay submitted by Amy Hendershot -- the one that won her and her family four Pepsi 12-Pack ticket packages for the 2010 Indians season -- was not the one she had planned to write.

Had life gone to plan, Hendershot would have expressed how much the tickets would mean to her 23-year-old daughter, Ashley Haidet, who was in the hospital recovering from complications from the H1N1 virus, and her 16-year-old daughter, Katie. Best friends and big baseball fans, the sisters would have loved spending some summer nights together at Progressive Field.

Sadly, that's not the essay the Indians, who announced 25 contest winners Friday, received.

The one they received was a powerful, heartfelt entry from a grieving mother dealing with the death of her beloved daughter and somehow summoning the strength to put her feelings in print.

Ashley did not recover from the complications. She had been showing signs of recovery from the pneumonia that was an offshoot of the H1N1 virus. But doctors believe a blood clot suddenly cut her life short on Feb. 9.

"It was such a shock," Amy said. "She was getting better and doing physical therapy. She should have been out of the hospital by now."

A week after Ashley's death, Amy remembered the impending deadline for submissions for the 12-Pack essay contest. On the surface, it might seem strange that in a time of such sorrow, Amy could focus on something that, by comparison, seems so trivial.

The Indians, though, are anything but trivial in Amy's family. Even when her father was diagnosed with terminal cancer in 2004, the ballclub was his distraction.

"The day we found out, my mom was upset and crying, and my dad said, 'I just want to watch the Indians,'" Amy remembered. "One of the last things I did with him was watch the Indians games with him that summer."

In an era of instant highlights and high-definition broadcasts, the jaded among us can forget just how much it means for some people to soak in the simple beauty of a few hours at the ballpark. But in reading the 25 entries the Indians picked out from the hundreds of submissions, one remembers that baseball is more than just a game.

It's an experience that means a great deal to the family of six that went from two paychecks to one when the recession hit hard last year; to the seminary student on a fixed budget; to the ailing and aging folks at the Veterans Administration who still reminisce about the days of 40-cent hot dogs and affordable tickets; and to the 15-year-old boy with cerebral palsy who can only say three words, one of which happens to be "ball."

All of them will get free tickets, thanks to a generous giveaway by a Tribe team looking to take care of its fans during hard times, both economic and personal.

Each 12-Pack package, which is available for purchase by all fans, includes a ticket to 12 marquee games selected by the Tribe (May 23 vs. the Reds, June 8 and 10 vs. the Red Sox, June 12 vs. the Nationals, July 4 vs. the A's, July 16 vs. the Tigers, July 26 and 28 vs. the Yankees, Aug. 7 vs. the Twins, Aug. 13 vs. the Mariners, Sept. 25 vs. the Royals and Sept. 29 vs. the Tigers). The winners of the contest received four packages, worth $348 per seat, with tickets in the lower reserved sections of Progressive Field. All of the nearly 500 people who submitted a 500-word essay received a voucher for four tickets to a game in April or May.

Hendershot was informed that she had won the four 12-Pack packages on Thursday and couldn't wait give Katie the news.

"I was so happy to tell her that," she said. "She misses her sister so much, and she loves the Indians. This is something for us to look forward to this summer."

Amy remembered a night last summer when Ashley called her little sister on the fly on a Friday night and said, "Let's watch the Indians play the Yankees!" The girls went and had a great time.

"That was just so Ashley," Amy said. "At the spur of the moment, she wanted to go to the game. She was always really happy and very friendly. She played softball. She was a pitcher. She just had a lot of friends everywhere."

Katie was her best friend. When Ashley turned 10, all she wanted for her birthday was an Indians jacket. She passed that love of the Tribe down to her younger sister, who reads indians.com every day, can recite every member of the Tribe roster and has two prized possessions -- an autographed Grady Sizemore rookie card and a copy of the Indians Ink magazine signed by Chris Gimenez.

It could not have been easy for Amy to write her essay, given the circumstances. But she reminded herself, "I've got to try to do this for Katie."

"Tuesday was the one-month anniversary [of Ashley's death], and that was a hard day," Amy said. "I know I can't do anything else to make Katie's life any better right now, but this will make her day. It will make her summer a little better."

Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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