Standing at three feet tall and weighing 48 pounds, the Pittsburgh Pirates’ new recruit took the mound for the first pitch during a spring training game against Baltimore. The butterflies in Blaise’s stomach subsided as he caught sight of All-Star Andrew McCutchen, waiting to receive his pitch. He took a deep breath and threw the best pitch he could muster. The ball sank right into McCutchen’s glove.
For nine-year-old Blaise, it was a dream come true. He lives and breathes Pittsburgh Pirates baseball – he memorizes statistics, watches all the games and even has a poster of his baseball hero Andrew McCutchen on his bedroom wall. While nine-year-old Blaise is like the sports heroes he admires in so many ways, he is diagnosed with hypoplastic left heart syndrome, a birth defect that affects normal blood flow through the heart. Even though he can participate in some sports, he plays with a chest guard and a ‘no contact’ rule and underwent three surgeries before the age of three. When Blaise was referred to Make-A-Wish by his cardiologist, there was little doubt that his wish would involve the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Make-A-Wish wanted Blaise to feel that despite his condition, he CAN be a hero. He CAN play sports with the pros and have joyful memories that will stay with him forever. In March, Blaise took his first plane ride and traveled to Bradenton, FL, with his family to take part in spring training. Blaise would be joining his favorite team!
Upon their arrival to the Sunshine State, Blaise and his family were taken to Pirates City, the team’s minor league training facility. After touring and meeting the players, Blaise hung out with Outfielder Jeff Roy, playing pool, ping pong and video games.
The best was yet to come. The next morning, Blaise received an iPad message from McCutchen, congratulating him on being called up to the “big leagues.” Blaise was officially a member of the team after signing a Pirates contract.
After a tour of McKechnie Field, the Pirates' newest recruit was presented with his official jersey and his own personalized locker. McCutchen took Blaise through fielding exercises, batting practice and pre-game stretches and even gave this aspiring player pointers for his game. And after throwing out the first pitch to McCutchen, Blaise took his seat, front and center to all the action.
Blaise’s parents were overcome with emotion as they watched their son’s wish come true.
“As I sit here tonight while my son sleeps amongst all of the gifts the Pirates showered him with, I had to truly contain myself before I could even attempt at posting about the last few days spent with the Pirates,” his mother wrote. “We have witnessed such love and compassion by Andrew McCutchen and the rest of the Pirate players over these last few days. We were both overcome several times with tears as we tried to express our gratitude to these men.”
While Blaise has endured pain and suffering in his short life and may face a heart transplant down the road, his wish gave him hope for the future - hope that all fear and challenges can be conquered, one swing at a time.