An avid baseball fan from nearby Macon’s Western Little League took a trip to play with the big boys last week.
Luke Russo, 10, is a fourth-grader at Heard Elementary facing a long cancer treatment process.
Georgia College head baseball coach Tom Carty heard the story and chose a memorable way to support Russo.
Participating in practice, wearing all the college gear and throwing out the first pitch last Friday was a pleasant break for the young boy.
The 10-year-old’s Bobcat adventure began last Thursday at the Division II college team’s practice.
“We tried to make his day a little brighter,” Carty said. “I think he was a little overwhelmed, but you want to overwhelm someone with that kind of event.”
The special guest was nervous at first before becoming one of the guys by the end of practice.
Carty said a chunk of the team shaved their heads to honor Russo.
“I mentioned to one of our seniors, Mike McGraw, and said ‘hey Mike would you do this’,” the coach said. “It didn’t take a second, and he said absolutely.”
McGraw organized nearly 10 other teammates to do the same.
Carty believes that athletes “get it” when it comes to supporting those engulfed in struggle.
“I don’t think there is anything wrong with wanting to win but still having perspective in life. I think we try to teach guys that,” Carty said. “They get it 100 percent.”
The disease reared its effects on Russo early in 2014.
Father Michael Attaway discovered something strange while watching a favorite TV show one February night. The 10-year-old boy was sleeping.
“Luke’s breathing was just terrible,” he said.
A rush emergency room visit revealed a “huge mass” around Russo’s heart and arteries.
“At that point, we didn’t know what it was,” Attaway said.
The mass is 5 x 6 inches and wrapped around his trachea, leaving Russo with half his air supply.
On Feb. 12, he went to Egleston Children’s Hospital in Atlanta and was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin or T-cell lymphoblastic lymphoma.
As of Friday, Russo completed his second month of chemotherapy treatment. Attaway said it’s a nearly three and a half year treatment road for males.
“It’s intense and pretty heartbreaking, but he is holding in there. He is a soldier,” Attaway said.
Before the disease hit, Russo could best be described as a ninja always being on the run.
His family says that attitude hasn’t changed for cancer.
“He is not scared. He’s kept his head up,” Attaway said. “This is one thing in life that truly makes you take it one day at a time.”
McGraw, an infielder for Georgia College, has seen cancer hit his family.
He remembers younger days looking up to older baseball players as well and the power lying in a simple gesture.
“Every baseball player was that kid at some point,” McGraw said. “When I was younger, I had older guys take me under their wing and show me the way, it’s paying back I guess. For kids that come watch the games, it’s something to look forward to and strive for.”
Attaway said his son “really enjoyed his time out there.”
“Hopefully, he’ll be a lifelong fan and fully recover through this illness,” Carty said. “Maybe, one day he will play for us.”
The Bobcats use baseball for multiple community engagement projects. Growing the game means a great deal.
“All of it is about trying to get people excited for Georgia College baseball. You want to expose people to that with your projects,” Carty said.
An upcoming Wednesday game against Valdosta State is Miracle League Day.
“It’s a fundraiser that we hope everybody in the community and students comes to drop a dollar,” Carty said. “We’ll pass the hat like the old days. We raised close to $500 one year and gave that back to Miracle League of Macon to make facility improvements.”
The Miracle League provides children with mental and/or physical challenges an opportunity to play baseball as a team member in an organized league. The Miracle League allows these children an opportunity to finally play baseball for the first time in their lives.
Each Miracle League player has an able-bodied “buddy” that protects the player at all times, as well as assisting according to his or her needs.
Bobcat baseball will travel to Macon May 2 serving as buddies for a game.
“That’s powerful for our guys,” the head coach said. “As much as our guys get out of going to Miracle League what a great time to have those kids come to watch us play and be fans of our team.”
Assisting others in the area to learn about and love “America’s pastime” will mean more than wins and accolades years from now.
“Baseball is dear to a lot of people’s hearts, and if you can pass it down, that’s all we are trying to do,” McGraw said.
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