It was an experience far beyond the dreams of the young man.
The adopted member of the State College Spikes had a spectacular Saturday.
After all, when it’s Josiah Viera Night at Medlar Field at Lubrano Park, it should be extra-special.
The 12-year-old was celebrated throughout the day and night in the team’s game against the Auburn Doubledays.
He’s been closely associated with the franchise for about three seasons, with plenty of special treatment from the parent club St. Louis Cardinals, hanging out with the big leaguers at spring training and getting his own locker at Busch Stadium.
But Saturday was special with the team that has drawn him in just as much as he is drawn to them. Viera, who suffers from Hutchinson-Gilford progeria syndrome, which causes premature aging to his frail 20-pound body, spent most of the afternoon in the clubhouse or on the field. He took batting practice, and even gave an emphatic bat flip after one nice cut with his small red bat.
“They told me to do a bat flip,” Viera said of the Spikes players, who hoisted him in the air and chanted his name after that. “I was not expecting that.”
He was followed around by television cameras from WTAJ and ESPN, with the latter planning a second E-60 feature on him. He was part of the pregame ceremonies and threw out the first pitch. He was part of the radio broadcast for three innings, and even gave manager Johnny Rodriguez his approval of the team’s starting lineup. Plus, he had one of the best seats in the house to watch the game.
“It’s been great for them to accept him into their family,” said his grandfather, Dave Bohner. “I don’t know that there’s another child his age, or even a grandpappy, that gets to spend all the games in the dugout. They just made us part of their family.”
And the most special part was the prize to fans who got to the ballpark early, with a bobblehead doll in Viera’s likeness. A long line snaked around the sidewalks outside the park an hour before first pitch when the gates opened.
“It’s similar,” Viera observed of the figurine.
With the red carpet laid out for the team’s biggest fan, it was a day that will be hard to top.
“It’s been an amazing day,” said Bohner, who is writing a book about his grandson and the past few years. “We never dreamed we’d ever be doing this five years ago, six years ago.”