For many the annual City of Hope Celebrity Softball Game during CMA Fest is a great opportunity to meet the artists and performers that they have listened to and watched on stage for years. For Nashville native Stephen Bess though, the 2015 game with will be played Saturday, June 13 at the new First Tennessee Park, will mean much more than that. Bess is a former City of Hope patient and will return to Music City for an emotional homecoming at the game where he will be introduced to the man who saved his life.
During his treatment for acute lymphocytic leukemia more than two years ago at City of Hope, Bess received a lifesaving donation of genetically matched stem cells from a stranger who, as it turned out, lived half a world away, in Germany. Ever since that time, Bess has wondered about that person, to whom he’s forever linked, who willingly and freely volunteered those cells. In a special ceremony at this year’s Celebrity Softball Game, Bess will get a chance to meet his life-giving hero.
“I am constantly humbled by the love and support I have received since my diagnosis in 2012. From the amazing staff at City of Hope, to my anonymous hero donor, to all of my friends and family, and of course my wife, Erin — I would not be alive if it weren’t for all of them,” said Bess.
“To celebrate all of this in my hometown of Nashville is surreal.”
Bess’ connection to City of Hope began when he was diagnosed with acute lymphocytic leukemia in 2012. He’s now overjoyed at the prospect of celebrating his second chance at life in his native city.
Born at Baptist Hospital in Nashville, Bess has deep roots in Music City as the step grandson of Tootsie Bess, the namesake of legendary honkytonk, Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge. He grew up in Middle Tennessee riding dirt bikes, fishing and playing baseball while he attended Montgomery Bell Academy.
In 1995, Bess left Nashville for Houston’s Rice University, and later played with the Detroit Tigers Minor League system from 1999 to 2004. After sports-related injuries forced him into early retirement and a move to Southern California, Bess was diagnosed with acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL) in 2012. He was immediately sent to City of Hope.
There, Bess underwent multiple rounds of chemotherapy while the difficult search for a bone-marrow match commenced. Bess’ perfect counterpart was discovered nine time zones away — in Germany — where a young man new to the marrow registry generously volunteered stem cells that would save Bess’ life.
Now two years later, in front of a packed First Tennessee Park and some of the biggest names in country music, Bess and his anonymous donor will demonstrate the true reason this game is played every year.
Tickets to this year’s Celebrity Softball game are still available here and just a few of the names already announced to appear include Vince Gill, Lindsay Ell, Little Big Town, Love and Theft, Bobby Bones, Charles Esten, and many more.