After getting situated in the batters box with his older sister by his side, Lio Ortega let it rip.
The 4-year-old hit the baseball off the tee just up to the pitchers mound, and took off toward first base. Then he kind of touched a makeshift second base, and took off for third. He was redirected to home plate after touching third, so he didn’t keep running into the dugout.
By the time he finally touched home, his “home run” was in the books and Lio was being hoisted into the air by both the Air Force and New Mexico baseball teams, who were shouting, “Lio! Lio! Lio!”
He had done it.
— Brent Briggeman (@BrentBriggeman) May 12, 2018
“As a parent, you never feel sad, you’re just thinking, ‘What great memory can I give him?’” Lio’s father, Manny Ortega told the Colorado Springs Gazette. “At the end of the day, you never know. In the back of our heads is always, what happens if it ends? Can we give him as much experience, as much love … That’s our focus.”
Lio was just two years old when doctors found a cluster of tumors in his spine and diagnosed him with medulloblastoma, a form of cancer. Doctors removed the tumors, but the cancer returned a year later.
So when New Mexico coach Ray Birmingham, who coached Manny in college, heard the they were coming for the Lobos’ game against Air Force on Saturday, he called Falcons coach Mike Kazlausky to set it up. Kazlausky, who lost his sister five years ago to cancer, was all for it.
“I’m proud of both teams,” Kazlausky told the Gazette. ““It was one thing I expressed to both teams early was, let’s make sure we do this right. We have one chance to do this and let’s make sure we’re going to do it right.
“Let’s make this an everlasting moment for Lio.”
Some things are bigger than the game. And today was a reminder of that. Falcon baseball and @UNMLoboBaseball would like to wish five year old Lio Ortega all the best as he battles cancer.
The honor was ours to have you come out today for the first at bat and pitch! pic.twitter.com/H37sX60cr0
— Air Force Baseball (@AF_Baseball) May 12, 2018
Lio threw out the first pitch, received a signed ball, met the Air Force mascot, and of course hit his inside-the-park home run.
While the Lobos beat Air Force 13-12 in a critical Mountain West matchup, Lio — who was decked out in his New Mexico gear — didn’t care. He had his moment, and left the field with a smile on his face.
“It was more than I could have imagined,” Manny told the Gazette. “When I saw them carrying him and his face … He’ll be telling all his friends about this.”
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