More than any other sport on this continent, baseball is steeped in history, and one of the great traditions is the dedicated home run.
The tradition began in 1926, when Babe Ruth signed a ball for a hospitalized 11-year-old boy who had been thrown from a horse. Ruth scrawled across the ball, “I’ll knock a homer for you in Wednesday’s game.”
The Bambino, who always rose to the occasion, hit three homers in that World Series game against the St. Louis Cardinals.
So, when some of the world’s best high school hardball prospects were chosen to hit in the Power Showcase home run derby, they were also asked to dedicate their homers to a cause, in a program called Home Runs That Help.
Maple Ridge’s Tyler O’Neill will take part in that event – he leaves for Florida on Boxing Day, to take part in the event at Marlins Ballpark in Miami, and he has chosen an old family friend, Mick Sahota, to whom he will dedicate his performance.
Speaking at Maple Ridge’s Blue Line Sports, which is owned by his brother George, Mick talked about his own past as an athlete, and his life-threatening kidney failure.
Mick was a junior hockey player with the Grandview Steelers and Riley Park Rangers, and an athlete who played virtually every sport.
In their 20s, he and Tyler’s father Terry were into weight training when it was still a relatively young sport in Canada.
Mick was manager of the Olympic Gym in Vancouver, and Terry was a dedicated and inspiring athlete who worked his way to the height of the sport of bodybuilding.
Mick believes it was the use of anti-inflammatory drugs that caused his kidney failure.
Today, he has just five per cent kidney function.
Mick endures eight to 10 hours of dialysis per day to remove toxins from his blood. He has been on dialysis for four years.
While only 17 to 18 per cent of Canadians list themselves as organ donors, a quarter of kidney patients waiting for a transplant die waiting for surgery.
“It shouldn’t be like that,” said Sahota. “The told me there’s an eight-year waiting list.”
He follows the program set out by his doctor, and his athlete’s discipline makes him a model patient. Still, his situation can appear dire.
“I’m critical – every day is a battle.”
He was touched when his old friend Terry contacted him, to be Tyler’s inspiration at the Power Showcase.
“It blows me away – I was in tears,” said Sahota.
Tyler will take his cuts against the best high school sluggers the competition can find, as they come from the Dominican Republic, Europe and across the globe.
The showcase is a huge stage for hardball’s top slugging prospects, and Tyler has seen the spotlight shine on the likes of Bryce Harper, who launched a 500-foot bomb in the contest.
“For a high schooler to do that is pretty impressive,” he said.
The Washington Nationals thought so too, as they drafted Harper first overall in 2010.
Tyler will go to Florida with a cleanup hitter’s swagger.
“It’s all attitude. I know I can hit ’em over, I just have to be consistent.”
And on the big screen at Marlin’s Ballpark, there will be a picture of him and Mick.
“I’m glad to raise awareness about kidney disease,” he said.
“I’ll try to help Mick out as much as I can.”