“Agree to Disagree, But I’m Probably Right” : For the Love of the Game

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Parker Abate, Columnist

I am going to tell you why my hero relates to two famous athletes. My hero, however, never made the news, or had the top story on ESPN.

But Eric Berry did. Berry, who was a defensive safety for the Kansas City Chiefs until November 21, 2014 when a mass was discovered in his chest. The Chiefs were without one of their best, if not the best defensive player on their team mid-season. He was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma on December 8. He announced he was cancer free in June 2015, played a full season that year, and has played every game thus far in 2016 as of September 30.

James Conner made the news, too. Connor was touted as one of the nation’s best running backs from the University of Pittsburgh. Conner announced in December 2015 that he was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. After six months of chemotherapy, Conner was cancer free. He returned to the field this season because nothing could keep him away from the game.

These two athletes showed perseverance, strength, and a love for the game, which I respect at the highest level. ESPN and the news, however, do not cover the stories of other sports heroes who showed the same – or more – perseverance.

On February 1, 2013, before the battles of Berry and Conner, a 5’5, 130-pound high school freshman from a small private school outside of Philadelphia was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia. He missed school and baseball season was right around the corner. Like Berry and Conner, his beloved sport became the last priority, and his health became his only priority. With a tight-knit family and many friends, the long road ahead with them would hopefully end back on the field, and in the classroom, but only time would tell.

Months of chemotherapy followed for this 14 year-old who became physically weak but remained mentally stout. His body would be affected, but his mind would not be. He skyped in to each of his classes to avoid being held back a year. He would also listen when told about his older brother performing on the baseball field, but that’s all he could do: listen. He could not play. He could not perform. He was not even able to take a test on a desk like most 14-year olds.

Two parents saw their child struggle, battle and weaken. Three siblings saw their brother beg to be normal again. All they wanted was for him to be back on the field, back in the classroom, back in his own bed. Some days were good, some days were alright, and some days were awful. This young man was confused, upset and hurt, but he was stronger than anyone in his family. He made it a priority to be the rock. He knew he’d play baseball again.

He also knew, though, that he was going to have to battle harder than he ever had on a baseball field.

On June 11, 2013, his 15th birthday, he received a bone-marrow transplant from his eldest sister. More months of recovery and determination followed.

A little over a year after his struggle began, he again on the baseball field, playing for his high school team as a sophomore in spring 2014.

This young man is my brother, Mason Abate. He has been cancer free for three-and-a-half years, and he is now a freshman at Elizabethtown College.

He is a pitcher for the baseball team.

Mason is the youngest in our family, but was, and remains, the strongest. He is the wisest, and he is the most influential. He was the one who told us it was all going to be okay. He told us he would be back in the classroom, and back on the field in no time. I look back to a time where he could barely walk because of the strength of chemotherapy, but he was right. He made it back. Cancer destroys some people physically and mentally. For Mason, the physical strife was enough. Mason won the mental war, and made sure his body would allow him to play on the field again.

He did not make it back because he is paid to play baseball, or make the ESPN highlights, but because he loves the game, and nothing was going to stop him from returning. Not many people are lucky enough to have someone as influential as Mason in his life, but I am. Through all the pain, he made his condition a speed bump.

He runs out to the mound, full strength, and for that, he will always be my hero.