With all the ugly stories recently making headlines and appearing all over our social media feeds, I was recently reminded that sports is not all bad and can give us special moments that last a lifetime.
Even if you weren’t the one impacted the most.
Last week at Medlar Field at Lubrano Park in State College, the New York-Penn League held its annual All-Star Game. It recognized young, talented adults taking their first steps in professional baseball with all having the goal of playing in the majors.
The players come from the 14 clubs playing Class A short-season baseball in the league. The level of play is just the beginning of professional baseball for the Baltimore Orioles, Miami Marlins, Detroit Tigers, Washington Nationals, New York Mets, Tampa Bay Rays, Boston Red Sox, St. Louis Cardinals, Houston Astros, Cleveland Indians, New York Yankees, Oakland Athletics, Pittsburgh Pirates and Philadelphia Phillies organizations.
Yes, there was a lot of talent on the field. Heck, some of the players in that game have already advanced to full-season Class A baseball.
But It wasn’t them or the game itself that was the biggest takeaway of the night. Instead, it was a 14-year-old boy by the name of Josiah Viera that captured the audience’s attention and had a well deserved moment all to himself.
State College Spikes manager Joe Kruzel, who was serving as the South team manager that night, turned to the honorary bench coach Viera to make the pitching change in the ninth inning.
Viera was in charge of taking the ball from Williamsport Crosscutters Randy Alcantara and handing it to teammate Keylan Killgore to close out the game.
None of the 3,048 fans in attendance nor the players were seen sitting while the special occasion unfolding in front of them. Instead, they were both physically and morally lifted by what was taking place.
Many — including myself — pulled our phones out to record what was taking place right in front of us.
Both teams cleared out of the dugouts and joined the standing ovation as Viera strolled to the mound. After the pitching change, Viera walked back to the dugout, but not without a couple tips of the cap that got an even louder applause. As the moment came to an end, he was carried back to the dugout by Kruzel who gave some touching words after the game.
“It gives you goosebumps,” Kruzel said. “It’s an opportunity in this situation to recognize him. I mean he’s done so much for us and I mean that from the players’ standpoint in our organization to the Spikes’ organization. He’s always grateful and thanking us, but he does a lot more for us than we do for him. It’s just an opportunity to honor him in the position that he may never have that chance and this gives him that forum to be appreciative.
“We really appreciate what he does. It was a situation that we started last year that he was able to do it and we found a way to do it tonight in front of the home crowd which I think is big for him. He doesn’t like all the attention sometimes, but it’s just a very nice gesture for him.”
If you’re not familiar with Viera’s story, I highly recommend you see the documentary pieces ESPN’s E:60 did so well on telling the tale of his battle with Progeria and how he refuses to let it keep him away from his favorite game.
The baseball community has been touched by his story and has reached out in so many ways. Yet, it’s easy to see those around Viera have gained so much from him and feel they can never return the favor.
That night left me with one regret.
Upon going into the clubhouse to interview Kruzel and North’s team manager Mike Jacobs of the Batavia Muckdogs, I saw Viera in the clubhouse enjoying his meal with some MLB highlights playing on the television in front of him that even captured fellow writers’ attention and sparked some small talk.
I never did approach him despite seeing his stories run on ESPN numerous times and reading about him through various news outlets. I told myself not to because I didn’t see any other writers approach him, but it’s no secret that we were all in awe that we were in the room with the night’s MVP.
I think it’s safe to say I speak for everybody who was in attendance in saying it’s a moment we’ll never forget. It was a reminder that not all stories in sports are of wrongdoing as many of us writers made sure to share the tale in the next day’s newspapers.
There will always be moments and stories in sports that leave a bad taste in our mouths. Look no further than the headlines coming out of Ohio State this week. But, for all of those, we have moments like the pitching change in State College that remind us of how sports can be used for good and provide moments we’ll cherish.
It’s not the best quality, but this is the video that introduced the world to Josiah: