Ceremonial first pitches are one of the best traditions in sports, but can a virtual first pitch still be meaningful?
They can be for Randall Middle School student Lucas Va, who was selected to throw the first pitch virtually at a home game in May. Before every Tuesday home game at Tropicana Field, the Tampa Bay Rays host a child from the Make-A-Wish Foundation or Children’s Dream Fund at the ballpark as part of a special program called ‘Tuesday’s Champion.’
The selected guest throws out the ceremonial first pitch and is given their favorite player’s personalized jersey (Lucas’ is outfielder Randy Arozarena), a baseball glove and a bat. The child, along with their family, attends the game.
“We had great seats right behind home plate,” said his mom, Monique Va.
Even though they attended the game in person, the pitch was thrown virtually because of COVID-19.
“We had to do a couple of takes to get the video right, but it was a fun experience,” said Lucas.
The opportunity presented itself when Lisa Hawk with the Children’s Dream Fund reached out to the family, as Lucas was diagnosed with acute lymphocytic leukemia in October.
His ongoing treatment regimen includes adhering to a ketogenic diet after chemotherapy to increase the efficacy of treatment. Translation: no carbs.
“I ate a hot dog without the bun and pulled pork nachos without the nachos,” said an upbeat Lucas.
The organization also sent a questionnaire that the family completed. His answers were shared on the jumbotron before the pitch. One of the questions was which baseball team was his favorite; his answer to that question wasn’t displayed on the jumbotron.
“It’s actually the Red Sox,” said Lucas, whose dad is from Rhode Island and is a big Red Sox fan.
“We are Rays fans except when they play the Red Sox,” his dad clarified.
While his cancer is in remission, he still has to continue chemotherapy treatment.
“It’s a two-and-a-half-year process, so it’s a long road,” said Monique. “Lucas will complete treatment on February 23, 2023.”
Monique is grateful for all the support her family has received by so many organizations and members of the community. From the Children’s Dream Fund that made the Rays experience possible to Ronald McDonald House Charities, which washes their clothes and gives them food vouchers to use while Lucas is at All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg for treatment, each act of kindness is helping make the trials this family is experiencing a little easier to bear.
Monique, a realtor at Keller Williams Realty, said her company recently raised almost $7,000 for Ronald McDonald House.
“It really touched my heart to be able to give back,” she said. “We will get through this.”