As a kid I used to read stories about how Babe Ruth (or was it Ted Williams, maybe both) visited a terminally ill child, promised to hit a home run in his honor in the next game, and delivered. Were these stories true? I don’t know, but I enjoyed them.
Something close to this scenario occurred in Baltimore last night. Trey Mancini plays first base for the Orioles. He’s the closest thing the team has to a face-of-the-franchise star after it cleaned house (by trading Manny Machado, for example) as part of a rebuilding effort.
Mancini missed all of last season. He was diagnosed with stage-three colon cancer and underwent surgery and lengthy recovery/rehabilitation.
During the rehabilitation process, he got to know Mo Gaba, a terminally ill 14-year-old plagued for much of his life by cancer. The two became friends, eating at Chick-fil-A and playing video games together.
Mo Gaba died on July 28, 2020.
To honor his memory on the first anniversary of his passing, Gaba’s mother Sonsy threw out the first pitch last night at Camden Yards. Mancini caught it.
Mancini says that when he presented her with the ball, she said, “Play hard for Mo, and hit one for him.” She also told Mancini where she would be sitting.
The Orioles quickly fell behind the Miami Marlins, 5-0. When Mancini came to bat in the third inning, they trailed 5-3.
In storybook fashion, Mancini hit a two-run homer to tie the game. As he rounded third base, he waved to Sonsy Gaba.
The gesture surprised his manager, Brandon Hyde. Mancini is old school. He’s not prone to displays like that. But then Hyde realized that Mancini was pointing to Sonsy, and it all made sense.
In the bottom of the ninth inning, it looked like truth might become stranger than fiction. The score was tied 7-7 when Mancini came to the plate with one out and a runner on third base. Would Mancini win the game with a “walk-off” hit or sacrifice fly?
He didn’t get the opportunity. The Marlins issued him an intentional walk. After a second intentional walk and an unintentional one, the Orioles had a walk-off win, literally.
After the game, Mancini said of his home run, “It was a really cool moment, and I definitely felt [Mo] with me.”
Mancini is the odds-on favorite to win comeback player of the year. He leads the Orioles in home runs (19), RBIs (60), and is second in batting average (.268). At the all-star game, he finished second in the home run derby.
But the home run he’ll remember most fondly is the one he hit last night for Mo Gaba.