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A Heartfelt Gesture

by Glen Andresen / Minnesota Wild

Normally when a Minnesota Wild fan meets a player, it's the fan who gets a little anxious. On Wednesday at Xcel Energy Center, it was the Wild player who was getting antsy as he was about to meet his biggest fan, 17-year-old Amanda Nieman.

Nieman, on the other hand, was perfectly calm as she sat on the Minnesota Wild bench under the impression she was there to talk about her experience at a Wild game last year. She had no idea she was about to meet one of her two favorite athletes.

One of those athletes is Joe Mauer. The other? Casey Wellman.

Yes, Amanda loves the three-time batting champion, the 2009 MVP and the hometown hero. And she loves Wellman, who has played a grand total of 12 games for the Wild after an impressive two years playing collegiately at UMass-Amherst.

"I wouldn't have expected that at all," said Wellman of the rare mention of his name alongside Mauer's. "He's an All Star, but to at least be put in that category in her mind is pretty incredible."

The reason for Wellman making the list?

"He's really cute," gushed Amanda just seconds before Wellman joined her on the bench to give her a jersey, an autographed stick and tickets to a Wild game.

Amanda found out that Casey isn't just a pretty face. He also has a big her.

This isn't the story of the Wild front office hearing about a young fan with serious health issues and asking Casey to find time to meet her.

Instead, Casey called the Wild office to set up this meeting on his own when his parents forwarded him an article. In it was her detailed story of undergoing 12 heart surgeries beginning when she was three weeks old.

Amanda was born with heart abnormalities and defects, and her condition worsened as she got older.

In June, she was the recipient of a brand new heart, and she's been thriving ever since.

"She has been able to exercise up to an hour at the gym," said her beaming mother, Kim. "Before the transplant, she wasn't able to walk up the stairs."

Now, she wants to play hockey and baseball, which Kim says is a realistic goal according to her doctors.

"It's an inspiration," said Wellman of his admirer. "This girl's been fighting through these surgeries. When I found out I was one of her favorite players, I thought it would be best if I could meet her and do what I can to brighten her day."

He was successful, especially since Amanda had just wrapped up a tough second day of classes at Stillwater High School where she is a junior. After not going to school at all last year due to difficulty getting around such a large campus, going to classes will take some getting used to.

Her frustration with school quickly gave way to elation when she had a fake interview interrupted and Wellman emerged, and the intial shock wore off. After a couple minutes, she had a long conversation with Wellman, who told her how impressive she is, and how happy he was to meet her.

The feeling was mutual. 

"I was very excited," said Amanda, who quickly forgot about school. "It was pretty sweet."

Amanda will continue to undergo therapy. She'll need to adjust to schhol. And her body will still need time to get used to her new heart, which got a workout when she was surprised by her favorite Wild player.
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