The 6-foot, 8-inch power forward towered over the hospital bed of 9-year-old Kaden Ketchem, a basketball spinning on the big man's finger.

Around the back it went, under his thigh, before rolling jauntily from one shoulder to another — only to reappear on a finger, again spinning, seemingly alive with joy.

It all seemed effortless and fun, and it should for El Gato Melendez, the first and only Puerto Rican-born baller to play for the Harlem Globetrotters. El Gato (The Cat) was in Bakersfield on Monday at Dignity Health Memorial Hospital's pediatric center visiting kids in their hospital beds.

It didn't seem to matter that some of the young patients had never heard of the Trotters. Having a tall, talented athlete at their bedside seemed to perk them up, even if they weren't feeling on top of their game.

"To be able to bring a smile to the faces of these kids," Melendez said. "It fills me up."

Laurie Ketchem, Kaden's mom, said her son's appendix ruptured Jan. 26 — a day she will never forget.

"He's doing better," she said.

Kaden had to have a procedure done Saturday, and he seems to be on the mend.

"Now we're looking at going home," she said.

Lucia Sosa, a registered nurse in the hospital's pediatric department — known as the Lauren Small Children’s Center — said El Gato's visit may be fun for the young patients, but it's therapeutic, too.

"Getting well, physically, is one thing," she said. "But being happy is going to help the process."

Indeed, having a positive outlook, an optimistic attitude, has been shown to be a benefit to patients, she said.

"It's holistic care," Sosa said. "It makes a difference."

Steven Mayer can be reached at 661-395-7353. Follow him on Facebook and on Twitter: @semayerTBC.

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