DALLAS — Every Rangers game this year has had special meaning to Annette Leslie of Dallas.
That's because her son Carson — who died on January 12 — had become close friends with Rangers 3rd baseman Michael Young.
There isn't a day that Young doesn't think about Carson.
"He's got a special place in my heart. He was a good friend of mine. I think about him a lot even when I'm not playing ball; I think about him a lot," Young said. "I miss him. He was a great kid and I will never forget him."
Carson lost his fight with brain cancer, and in the days before his death, he signed seven baseballs — one of which he gave to Young, which he keeps in his locker.
"He gave me that ball last year, and I've kept it up there all season long," Young said. "I do want to make sure that I have a constant reminder of him — not that I need that to have it — but I do want to make sure I keep something with me all the time."
Carson's mom said knowing that breaks her heart.
"If he can be an inspiration to this team, then it means the world to me," Leslie said. "All that Micahel did for Carson... if he could have inspired just a little bit this team, I mean... somehow I feel like he's out there kind of making... I don't know, I know that sounds stupid, but I don't know."
Even though Carson died when he was 17, his mother likes to say that he lived a full life.
What other teenager can say that Michael Young is a close personal friend? Or Derek Jeter? Or Jessica Simpson? The list goes on and on.
In the spring of 2009, Young invited Carson and his family to spring training.
"It was a chance for us to spend and hang out for a day," Young said at the time. "It's something I've been looking forward to, and hopefully he has been, too. I'm happy all his family is out here with him."
That was also the day Carson got to throw out the first pitch — something he had given a lot of thought to.
"I was thinking about a curve ball, but pretty sure I'll throw a fastball," he said. "I've got to throw a strike. It'll be embarrassing if you don't throw a strike. I'm not going to bounce it in there."
His mom remembered what happened next.
"Carson walked out there, strutted out there... had the swagger... picked up the rosin bag. The rosin — or whatever was in there — was flying all over, and he bent his head down. I can see it like it was yesterday. Did the wind-up and threw the high strike to Michael. It was pretty sweet.
"He saved his energy to throw out that first pitch, and Michael said, 'Don't bounce it in here. Throw me a high strike. And he did.
It was just one of many days that Young set aside to spend time with Carson.
Young hadn't always been his favorite player. For a long time, that distinction belong to Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter.
But when Young was the highest bidder on a painting that Carson had created for charity to raise money for Wipe out Kids Cancer, the two became close friends.
"Michael didn't stop there," Leslie said. "They played golf and met for the first time."
Michael took Carson's book to Jeter and had Jeter sign it. The next year, he brought it back to Carson.
These days, Carson's mom is focused on the Carson Leslie Foundation to raise money for pediatric cancer. The money raised will start with studies on her son's brain, which Carson wanted saved for research.
"Carson's brain is waiting to be studied at UT Southwestern right now," Leslie said. "Carson insisted that his brain be studied because he wanted to give back. He was a giver."
"I'm not going to pretend to know what it's like to go through something like that," Young said. "The closest I've been through is having a friend go through that and empathizing with his family...something I will never forget, that's for sure."
Before he died, Carson described his struggle to stay alive.
"It's hard to go through chemo, and its hard to go through radiation. The cancer part is not hard," he said. "I mean, mentally it's very hard, but what takes you down is the chemo and the radiation."
Carson and his English teacher Pat Gordon wrote a book entitled "Carry Me." It was published just days before he died.
"I probably cried once a week writing this book," Carson said. "I put a lot into it."
Michael Young wrote this in the forward to the book:
"Carson is an incredible example of faith and courage. I'm glad to call this young man my friend."