- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 29, 2016

WEBSTER GROVES, Mo. (AP) - A local man recently wrote a book about how he was able to overcome life-threatening burns when he was 9 years old with the help of a beloved St. Louis Cardinals announcer.

In January 1987, John O’Leary suffered third-degree burns on over 87 percent of his body after he accidentally exploded a five-gallon container of gas at his St. Louis County home and set himself on fire, The St. Louis Post-Dispatch (https://bit.ly/1MylS0N ) reported.

About 30 hours after the accident, as the boy was near death and unable to breathe on his own, sportscaster Jack Buck visited him in a St. Louis hospital.

Buck encouraged O’Leary to keep fighting for his life. He told him that they would celebrate and that he would host the boy and his family for “John O’Leary Day” at the ballpark after he recovered.

Over the next five months, Buck continued to visit O’Leary in the hospital, and the boy kept fighting.

When Buck wasn’t able to get to the hospital, he talked about O’Leary on the radio during broadcasts of the Cardinals games. He encouraged athletes, including Blues player Gino Cavallini and Cardinals outfielder Andy Van Slyke, to embrace the boy as he had done.

In July 1987, Buck hosted “John O’Leary Day” at Busch Stadium, but his efforts to make a difference in the boy’s life didn’t stop with him fulfilling his promise.

In an effort to get the boy to start writing again after the fingers on both of his hand had been amputated, Buck started regularly sending baseballs autographed by various baseball players — 60 of them in all — to O’Leary in exchange for thank-you letters.

Before long, O’Leary returned to school, regained confidence in himself and reclaimed a sense of normalcy.

Buck continued supplying O’Leary with calls, letters, tickets to baseball games and visits to the broadcasters booth for years.

In the spring of 1999, O’Leary graduated from St. Louis University’s John Cook School of Business. Buck watched him receive his diploma and gifted him the crystal baseball that was presented to Buck upon his induction into the National Baseball Hall of Fame, with a note that said, “It’s yours now. Don’t drop it.”

O’Leary eventually went on to become a chaplain at a children’s hospital and an inspirational speaker.

Last week, O’Leary released his book, “On Fire: The 7 Choices to Ignite a Radically Inspired Life.” His book is filled with people who inspired him during his recovery, and prominent among them is the man who made a difference in the life of a boy who he didn’t even know.

“That guy …” O’Leary said, pausing to let the emotions settle. “And what he did. … He had no idea any of this was going to happen. He had no clue we would be rolling out this book 12 years after his death, or anything like that. All he knew was that he could do more for somebody else.”

Buck died in June 2002 at age 77. O’Leary, now 38, plans to carry on his legacy by making a difference and inspiring others.

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Information from: St. Louis Post-Dispatch, https://www.stltoday.com

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