Progeria can't stop Josiah Viera's love for baseball
“Are you tired?”
Pap turns to me and says, “He’s tired.”
But what 12-year-old is going to admit he’s tired, especially after staying up late to hang out with his professional baseball friends?
Josiah Viera and his pap, Dave Bohner, who live in Hegins, spend a lot of summer weekends in State College, roaming the halls and the dugout of Medlar Field at Lubrano Park. Josiah gets nonstop high-fives, and the team doesn’t stop from pranking him like they do each other.
As pitching coach Darwin Marrero passes by him in the lounge, he snatches Josiah’s hat and models it, saying it looks good on him. Josiah slides off the sofa and chases down his hat through a fake wrestling battle.
“He’s an angel,” Marrero says as Josiah heads back to the sofa.
Josiah has Hutchinson-Gilford progeria syndrome. It’s a rare genetic disorder that causes aging at a young age. So although Josiah is only 12, doctors estimate his body is about 110. The boy, who is less than 20 pounds, is bone, muscle and skin, with bad joints and arthritis. He takes cholesterol medicine and has to watch his sugars.
But he won’t let his difficulties take away his love of baseball. He eats, lives and breathes baseball.
“The Cardinals organization has taken us in,” Pap says. It started with a 2013 visit to the stadium with the Children’s Miracle Network. In 2014, when Pap retired, the pair spent so much time at the stadium Josiah got his own locker among the players and became one of the team. Josiah was there to encourage and coach the team on to its New York-Penn League Championship.
He travels around the country to be involved with the organization. Receiving the 2014 Harry Mitauer Good Guy Award, heading to spring training in Florida and receiving his own NYPL championship ring, which slides on to two fingers. Josiah has stood on the Busch Stadium field in St. Louis and spent time with outfielder Matt Holliday. Oh, and then there’s the time he starred in a video with Cardinals pitcher Adam Wainwright, then got his signed jersey.
It’s been a surreal experience for Josiah and Pap. And the team enjoys it just as much.
“A day with Josiah is tenfold a day without Josiah,” says Danny Martin, who is in his second season with the Spikes. “You can’t be upset when you see him, and it makes you feel so grateful. Everything that comes of Josiah is positive, and it’s so uplifting, it’s great to have him around.”
I get to witness the youngster’s energy firsthand, as he stands in front of the dugout and photo well to catch the ball from the first baseman after warmups. When the guys come in from the field, they get high-fives. When they’re at bat, he cheers them on. And when he’s noticed something with their technique, he lets them know.
Every player lights up to talk about their relationship with him. “He’s fun to be around, he’s just like one of us.” “We all enjoy him taking batting practice.”
The energy Josiah brings to the dugout is like no other, and he’s a great teammate.
The first 1,000 fans entering the Spikes game on Saturday will receive a bobblehead of honorary Bench Coach Josiah Viera