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Pujols is Pretty Special


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Yeah, sappy story here. So very cool too:




St. Louis Cardinals fan feels uplifted after fall

By Todd C. Frankel


Friday, Sep. 04 2009


He lay on his back in the dirt of the Pittsburgh ballpark. His neck hurt.

Striking his face on the crushed rock along the first-base side felt like

breaking through glass. He was bloodied. And the foul ball was gone. He had

missed it, missed his one chance to grab a game ball for his son on the boy's

21st birthday.


Tim Tepas, a retired schoolteacher, wanted only to climb over the short railing

and sit back down next to his son. Disappear. Forget the whole thing. But the

television cameras were on him. The stadium seemed to gasp in unison at his

fall along the sidelines of that Pirates-Cardinals game in early August.


Tepas struggled to stand. He heard a voice behind him, felt hands on his back.


Please lie down, sir. Don't try to get up, sir.


The hands, huge meaty mitts, eased him to the ground, held him still.


Don't try to get up, sir.


Tepas was struck by the voice, its confidence, its calm, the way he was called

"sir" again and again.


He looked up at the sky and struggled to focus on the face above him. He

studied the man's ballcap. He could make out the number 5 written under the



Albert Pujols. The father just knew. This is Albert Pujols.


Two strangers, one a fan and the other a superstar athlete, both fathers of

children with Down syndrome.


Some say it was coincidence. Others call it fate.


Whatever caused that accidental meeting there along the edges of the ballgame

that night outlived anything that happened on the field. During the entire 8½-

minute ordeal on the field, Pujols stayed with Tepas. TV and radio announcers

were mystified. Fans talked of witnessing a moment of pure concern.


But to truly understand what occurred — to understand what, in some small way,

drove Tepas to reach for that foul ball — you have to know about Tepas and his

son Keith.


And you have to know about the letter, the one Tepas wrote to Pujols long

before the game, but never sent. A letter about doubt and acceptance and the

parable of the bumblebee.


When Tepas fell, the letter sat forgotten in a white tote bag under his seat

just a few feet away.




Father and son had driven down from Buffalo, N.Y., in Tepas' Hyundai. They

loaded up on Gatorade and music for the 3½-hour trip on Friday, Aug. 7.


They both wore Cardinals T-shirts. Keith wore a red Cardinals cap. He plays on

the Cardinals in a softball league for disabled adults. He sleeps on Cardinals

bedsheets at home.


The father liked Pujols — more as a person than a player. Tepas recalled

reading about Pujols and his 11-year-old daughter, Isabella, who has Down

syndrome. She was 3 months old when Pujols met her mom, his future wife. Pujols

became an advocate for Down syndrome children with his charitable foundation.


For Keith's birthday, Tepas at first planned to take his son to a minor league

game in Buffalo. They have season tickets. Keith can name players who years ago

played there. In Pittsburgh, he would point to right field and note that the

Cardinals' Ryan Ludwick used to play for the Bisons.


But the Bisons were out of town. So Tepas, an impulsive and gregarious

63-year-old with gray hair and a mustache, aimed for something grander.


Tepas splurged on tickets for the Pirates game — $224 for the pair. Section 7,

right along the field.


He figured it was an important milestone for Keith. It was an important

milestone for Tepas, too. He had spent years battling his own doubts, worrying

about his son, wondering what would become of him as he grew older.


The doctors warned Tepas and his wife there would be delays with Down syndrome,

a genetic condition that causes developmental disabilities and distinctive

physical features. Keith would lag behind children his age. It wore on the

father. Watching other kids walk. Other kids talk. Wondering when it would be

Keith's turn.


"During the first three years, you're like, what's wrong with this kid? When is

he going to blossom?" Tepas says.


He adds: "It's been challenging, I'll be honest with you. I heard that when you

have a special needs child, as many as 90 percent of those parents end up



Tepas was divorced after one year. His former wife got custody of Keith. But

Tepas stayed in the boy's life. Saw him four days a week, sometimes more.

Attended his therapy sessions, his sporting events, his Boy Scout meetings.


Tepas remembers when he began to see his son in a new way. Keith was 7. Father

and son were running side by side in a county park. They tossed a

blue-and-yellow foam football back and forth. It felt so ordinary, so simple,

this staple of fathers and sons.


The father told himself: OK, Tim, you can stop worrying.




"I consider him a real blessing in my life," Tepas says now.


He can rattle off his son's achievements, apologizing as he goes for sounding

boastful. Two years ago, Keith became an Eagle Scout. He graduated high school

this summer, his father buying him a custom-fit suit for the occasion. He's

good at spelling. And miniature golf. He does not talk much, preferring to

telegraph his speech through simple words or gestures. But his father can glean

more than enough from one of his son's gleeful thumbs-ups.


"It's kind of neat in a way, because of his innocence, I don't think he's ever

going to change much," Tepas says. "He'll still hug me when he's 30 or 40 or

50. He's uninhibited that way."


The relationship between father and son developed its own routines. Keith loves

routine. In recent years, one routine has centered on playing baseball,

starting in the spring and lasting until it gets too cold.


Three days a week, Tepas picks up Keith and they head to a little league field.

Tepas pitches from a box of old balls. Keith wields the bat. The father keeps

stats, tracking the progress of his son like he is a major league prospect. The

father notes with precision how many balls Keith hits over the fence, how far

they travel. He walks off the distances to be sure.


With the number of home runs, the father can see his son's growth. Keith is not

tall, standing just under 5 feet 2. But he has a slugger's swing. Two home runs

the first year, eight the next, then 26, 53, 97 and 94 so far into their

private season.


And every visit to the ballpark ends the same way. A private celebration

modeled on the Friday night fireworks at Bisons games. They huddle together and

rest one hand on top of the other in the middle. They shout "1,2,3, fireworks!"

Their hands shoot skyward in imitation of the pyrotechnics.


Only then is the game truly over.




In Pittsburgh, during the middle of the seventh inning, with the game tied 4-4,

Tepas considered leaving. They faced a long drive home. Tepas reminded himself

to remove the homemade orange-and-white "Happy 21st Keith" sign taped atop the



But they stuck around.


The Pirates were at bat. Chris Carpenter was on the mound. One out. Two runners

on base. Garrett Jones, a lefty, at the plate. Carpenter's first pitch was

outside. His next pitch was low. But Jones reached for it, striking the ball

straight-armed, like he was hitting a sand wedge. The ball spun into foul

territory toward the stands.


This is going to be easy, Tepas thought.


The bouncing ball appeared to be headed straight for him. He stood up, reached

out with his left hand. He planted his right hand on the railing. But his view

changed as he stood. The ball appeared farther off to his left. Difficult to

backhand. He extended his right hand. He flipped over the railing. His body

launched downward, his arms offering no protection, his legs thrown high above.

His face slammed to the ground.


The ball caromed off the railing and scooted into right field.


"Man down," said a Pittsburgh TV announcer.


"Wow," added the play-by-play man.


"Wow. Oh my goodness."


Pujols, playing first base about 40 feet away, reached Tepas first. He knelt

beside him. He urged him to lie down.


Pirates first base coach Perry Hill arrived next. He grabbed Tepas' feet. Hill

had never seen a fan suffer a fall like that. Stadium staff ran over. Trainers

from both teams and paramedics crowded around Tepas. Pujols still knelt by his



Hill glanced over his shoulder at Tepas' son. He had noticed the pair earlier

in the game. Now he picked up Pujols' mitt and walked over to Keith, still in

the stands. He asked Keith whether he would like to touch Pujols' glove. They

talked about the handmade "Happy 21st Keith" sign. Hill tried to position

himself to block the son's view. Hill looked back at the field, saw Pujols

still there.


"The way he landed so awkwardly on his neck," said Cardinals TV play-by-play

man Dan McLaughlin, reacting to a replay. "His neck was bent. It's not so much

the cut on the forehead that you saw, but I'm sure they're very concerned about

his neck area and his back."


Lying on the ground, Tepas was annoyed to hear Pujols tell the trainers he did

not like the way he landed on his neck. Tepas felt fine. Woozy, battered, but

fine. Yet he was not going to fight them. They asked him to wiggle his fingers

and his toes. He did. They asked about tingling, about radiating pain. He felt



Minutes ticked by as they strapped Tepas to a board and secured his neck with

foam blocks. And still Pujols was there, in the thick of it.


"I'm almost wondering if this is a friend of Albert's," said Al Hrabrosky on

the Cardinals TV broadcast.


Mike Shannon, doing the Cardinals radio show, sounded incredulous.


"Look at Albert, he's right in there! He's going to help lift the stretcher.

Better get Albert out of there," Shannon said, laughing. "Move him out of

there! We know he has a lot of compassion, but we don't need him hurting his

back lifting him up."


Pujols let the paramedics wheel Tepas out on a stretcher through the right

field fence. Pujols stood, hitched up his pants and walked over to Keith, who

now sat on a small ballpark utility vehicle, about to follow his father. Keith

sat facing away from the medical drama. He tugged on the bill of his red

Cardinals cap as he scanned the diamond. Pujols leaned over and tapped Keith on

the shoulder, spoke to him. Pujols smiled. Made sure Keith had gotten the foul

ball his father wanted for him.




Tepas was released from the hospital after midnight. As he left, the hospital

staff teased Tepas that he was famous, his fall already appearing on ESPN and

YouTube. His neck was sore. His face was bruised. But he had no serious

injuries. Tepas wanted only to get home, where in a few days a Pujols

autographed baseball would arrive for Keith. They drove through the night. The

father asked his son whether he had been scared by what happened on the field.

The son said simply, "No."


And in the back of the car sat the tote bag with the letter.


Tepas was not sure why he had written it. Pujols did not need to hear from him.

But Tepas needed to share his son's story, wanted another father to know what

he knows, what he took so long to learn. About his son. About the bumblebee,



The letter, after a short introduction, starts with a note: "According to the

laws of aerodynamics, the bumblebee can't fly. But the bumblebee doesn't know

that. So it flies." The letter details in numbers and statistics Keith's

hitting prowess and his off-the-field achievements.


And it ends like this: "He is a blessing in my life and I thank the Lord for

putting him in my life. Like the bumblebee, he doesn't know that he's not

supposed to fly."


This weekend, Tepas and Keith are driving back to Pittsburgh for a series with

the Cardinals, attending at the Pirates' invitation.


No need to bring the letter. Tepas finally mailed it last week.


And he plans to let others chase the foul balls.





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The Pujols story was all kinds of awesome. Sadly, there's a local angle to a "fan-in-the-stands" story that's far more dire:




09/10/09 4:40 PM ET

Community supports injured young fan

Teams help 4-year-old hit by foul ball at Mahoning Valley


By Benjamin Hill / MLB.com

The Mahoning Valley Scrappers have advanced to the New York-Penn League Finals, but postseason baseball currently ranks a distant second in the hearts and minds of the team and its fans.


On Sept. 2, 4-year-old Lucas Holko was struck in the back of the head by a foul ball while attending a Scrappers game. The impact fractured his skull, putting pressure on his brain and causing it to swell. The young baseball fan remains in a medically induced coma at Akron Children's Hospital, as doctors must wait for the swelling to subside before determining their next course of action.


The accident occurred during the second game of the Wednesday doubleheader. The Holko family was watching the game from seats located right behind first base, and Lucas was seated in his father's lap.


"We're big baseball fans, so we know the danger [of foul balls]," said Nicole Holko, Lucas' mother, during a press conference held at Akron Children's Hospital this past Friday. "We were trying to see where the balls were going when they were hit, because we knew this was something that could happen ... It was just one of those things, where one second we didn't look and one pitch we didn't look."


Lucas has a long road to recovery, but recent signs have been positive. Nicole Holko wrote in an online journal Wednesday that Lucas has squeezed her hand and initiated breaths on his own. She went on to note that his progress has been "amazing" in the week since the accident occurred.


The Holko family, as well as the entire Scrappers organization, have been the recipients of a tremendous amount of goodwill throughout the past week.


"It's just been unbelievable the amount of support he's received," said Scrappers general manager David Smith. "Not just from our fans and members of the team and front office, but from the entire community."


Indeed, the Mahoning Valley area has mobilized in an effort to help defray mounting medical costs. A local Sam's Club discount store held a Labor Day barbeque and donated the proceeds to the Holko family, and a fund has been set up in Lucas' name through a local banking chain. The New York-Penn League has also played a key role in the fundraising efforts. All four teams involved in the NYPL playoffs -- Brooklyn, Staten Island, and Lowell in addition to Mahoning Valley -- have solicited donations from fans during games, and this effort will continue throughout the entirety of the postseason.


"[The donations to the Holko Fund] show what a great league this really is ... if an incident happens, we're all in it together," said Smith, whose club held a benefit for Lucas during Wednesday's semifinal win over the Cyclones.


The incident did not go unnoticed by the Cleveland Indians, who have been the Scrappers' parent club since the 2004 campaign. Upon hearing about Lucas' injury, infielder Jamey Carroll took it upon himself to collect an assortment of autographed memorabilia and also arranged to have the entire team sign a get-well card. This Major League goody bag was personally delivered to the Holko family by Katie Wedge, wife of Indians manager Eric Wedge.


Those interested in following Lucas' progress can do so by visiting a personalized website hosted by CaringBridge.org. The site contains frequent updates on his medical status as well as a guestbook and family photos.


"Family members have been updating the site once or twice a day, so this is a great way for people to see how he's doing," said Smith.


And if the events of the past week are any indication, interest in young Lucas' recovery will only continue to grow.


"The story is getting out there on the national level, so we've started to hear from other Minor League teams as well," said Smith. "Everyone is pulling together, flooding the organization and family with their support ... This has been a very tough situation, but we're all doing what we can to turn it into a positive."


Of course, the ultimate positive will be the day when Lucas is back on his feet.


"[Lucas is] energetic, go-go-go all the time," said Nicole Holko at Friday's press conference. "He's always happy, he's very affectionate ... He's our life."




Via caringbridge.org, there was an update about Lucas yesterday. How about a ton of Browns Board love for this little guy and his family:


Luke squeezed my hand twice today!!! They were suctioning him and thats when he did it...is showing movement in his eyes and sends his pressure rates up with the light shines in them and is still moving and coughing alot and is still initiating alot of his breaths!! They have him set for 20 breaths per minute and he does between 35-39...those extra ones are ALL him, plus he starts all the other ones!! GO LUKE!!! he is so strong and is doing so well!! Little steps everyday but amazing progress for one wk!!! In an amazing gesture of love and kindness Katie Wedge, Eric Wedges' wife aka manager of the Cleveland Indians, came in today to see Luke and deliver all the gifts from them!! They brought him like EVERY toy from the Indians store and 3 personalized signed bats and Jamey Carrolls glove, signed and two hats signed, and a baseball and card signed by the whole team!!!! We are speechless and so grateful for all of this! Jamey was the one who lined all the guys up and put this all together and we honestly are just blown away by their love and kindness towards our little boy, a little fan they have never met!! It just grabs and squeezes my heart and almost takes my breath away to think of how much these special people care and love my son! Our hearts are with them and Ben and Travis and the Scrappers...as they finish their season. Some of the family is attending tonights playoff game and the Greene fire dept has organized a boot drive to collect money for luke...So please keep prayers for everyone to be safe and keep praying for Lukie..it IS WORKING!!! He is our life and we know he will be back to his rambunctious self again!! Thank you and love you all!!! nicole





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