The remarkable story behind Tino Luigi's three straight inside-the-park home runs

McClatchy High senior second baseman Tino Luigi overcame a grim cancer diagnosis to reach rarified baseball air. (family photo)

Tino Luigi is believed to be the first Sacramento-area prep baseball player to hit home runs in three consecutive at-bats, but his remarkable performance last week is nowhere near his greatest achievement.

Overcoming long odds to survive cancer of the central nervous system, Luigi now plays in honor of his brother Nate, who died at age 19 just one day after reporting for Army infantry duty. The McClatchy High senior second baseman's incredible tale is the subject of a wonderful Sacramento Bee feature.

At 5 years old, Luigi was diagnosed with stage 4 neuroblastoma and given a rather harsh reality check.

His chance of surviving more than five years was as low as 10 percent. They were told that if the cancer didn’t kill their boy, the treatment might. Luigi had chemotherapy and radiation and eventually underwent a stem-cell transplant, during which his cells were harvested, cleansed, frozen, thawed and replaced.

But Luigi overcame. He didn't mind losing his hair, according to the Bee, because his favorite basketball player at the time was former Kings point guard Jason Williams. He even met Williams a few times during Sacramento's infamous 2002 NBA playoff run and traveled to Alaska thanks to the Make A Wish Foundation. Sure enough, within a year, he was cancer free and has been ever since. His wish came true.

“Our son’s last day of first grade, during a graduation ceremony for sixth-graders, I saw moms with tears,” his mother, Jean, told the Bee. “Their little babies were growing up, and I was thinking, ‘If our little boy can make it to sixth grade, we’ll be so thankful.’ And he did. And then eighth grade. And now he’s going to graduate high school. He’s our miracle. I cry driving to games, but they’re good tears now.”

On April 23, they were tears of joy, for sure. Luigi belted inside-the-park home runs on all three of his plate appearances in a 14-2 mercy-rule victory over city rival Florin High, keeping McClatchy's playoff hopes alive.  All three reportedly landed over the outfielders' heads in McClatchy's fence-less field, and Luigi slid headfirst into home for his first two round-trippers before easily reaching the plate to the delight of his teammates on the third. While Luigi is batting .353 on the season, the homers marked the first three of his career.

As he circled the bases, the dog tags around his neck offered the constant reminder of his brother Nate. Life is but a fleeting moment, and nobody understands that better than Tino Luigi, a.k.a. "The Great McBeano."