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Joe DiMaggio Visits Namesake Cancer Patient In Hospital

February 18, 1989

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) _ Crowds once roared for Joe DiMaggio, but his lone appearence in a hospital room brought a quieter response from a young cancer patient named DiMaggio Velasquez: awed silence.

The famed Yankee Clipper spent about 20 minutes Friday with the 18-year-old fan, who was named after DiMaggio and grew up wanting to play like him. Velasquez recently lost a leg to cancer, which has spread to his lungs.

The youth, a Nicaraguan refugee, had brought baseball cards of the former New York Yankee outfielder to his room at San Francisco General Hospital, and put two baseballs on the window ledge to be autographed.

The 74-year-old DiMaggio, three times the American League’s Most Valuable Player and participant in 10 World Series, signed the balls, posed for photographs and talked with the young fan for about 20 minutes.

″At one point, I asked (Velasquez) how he felt, and he said ‘I was mute’ and one tear came out of his eye,″ said hospital spokeswoman Gloria Rodriguez. ″He was speechless. His dream had come true.″

Velasquez, overwhelmed by the visit, was too sleepy to talk to a reporter afterward, a friend said.

His mother, Ernestina, gave her second son the baseball player’s name at the urging of his uncle, who once traveled from Nicaragua to watch DiMaggio, whose 56-game hitting streak in 1941 is considered by many to be the greatest of all baseball accomplishments.

″All my life people have asked me where I got my first name, and I’ve always been very proud to tell them, ’From a great man, a wonderful baseball player with the Yankees,‴ Velasquez said before DiMaggio’s visit.

He called meeting his hero ″my forever dream.″

The young Nicaraguan refugee played baseball and football and always wore ″5″ on his jersey - DiMaggio’s number - before breaking a hip during football practice at Mission High School in San Francisco.

During treatment for the injury, doctors discovered bone cancer. Velasquez’s right leg was amputated last month and he has lost his hair from chemotherapy. With the cancer having spread, his future is uncertain.

It seemed Velasquez had little chance of meeting the extremely private DiMaggio, who last appeared regularly in public as the pitchman for Mr. Coffee in the 1970s but recently resumed his role as a television spokesman for the Bowery Savings Bank in New York City.

When a social worker at the hospital called DiMaggio last week, the latter was at first worried about how she located his unlisted San Francisco number.

But he softened when the social worker, Carol Fink, told him Velasquez always wore the hall of famer’s number and that the amputation prevented him from playing ball.

″At the end, he said, ‘Let’s try to turn this into something positive.’ He said he’d try to come,″ Fink said.

Velasquez’s 20-year-old brother, Bismarck, and their mother were with him when DiMaggio stopped by. Several friends were also visiting at the time, said Rodriguez.

Mrs. Velasquez and her husband still live in Nicaragua, but sent the boys to live with their grandmother in San Francisco five years ago.

″I wanted to join the Air Force and fly a plane. That must change now,″ Velasquez said. ″I think about playing sports. And about how that’s what I loved, about being like DiMaggio.

″Almost. Almost.″

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