By Mike DeFabo
Times West Virginian
After Fairmont Senior knocked off Ravenswood in the Region I title game last week, the Polar Bears ran down the entire checklist of essential postgame celebrations.
The mosh pit in the infield. The presentation of the trophy. The extended photo shoot. All of it.
When the flash bulbs and the music faded, the team began to dissipate. But still, there was one small order of business left undone.
Who would get the game ball?
Several of the Polar Bears made compelling cases. Would it go to pitcher Austin Norman after he struck out 14 Red Devils? Or maybe to junior Jayce Riley for his three hits? How about Ryder Skarzinski for walking three times?
Instead, senior Gage Hannah snuck around the dugout and — almost without anyone noticing — rounded up the five seniors. Together, they walked to the bleachers along the third baseline, where they found Gage’s sister, Molly.
It wasn’t hard to find her. She was sitting right where she has been the entire season ... maybe longer.
Since tee ball, she’s cheered on her brother and the other four seniors, who have become by extension almost like brothers.
Now with Fairmont Senior (22-8) just two games from a state title, the 22-year-old doesn’t let anything get in her way of attending Polar Bear baseball games — not the weather, not the drive to away games and certainly not her cerebral palsy.
“She’s the biggest fan we have,” Norman said. “She’s been at every game since we were 8 years old. She’s stuck it out. We really appreciate her.”
She hangs on each pitch, always offering an encouraging cheer of “Let’s go, Gage!” or “Let’s go, Austin!” or “Let’s go ...” you can fill in the blank with whoever else is up to the plate in the key situation.
“She's our No. 1 fan,” said her father, Doug Hannah. “She cheers for everybody, not just her own brother. She wants them all to do good.”
Molly, a die-hard Mountaineer basketball fan, doesn’t let the boys have all the fun. She has started doing modified CrossFit workouts and competes in SteppingStones Miracle League softball games in Morgantown. One year, Gage’s entire 14-year-old All-Star team volunteered to assist during one of the games.
“Sometimes, I’ll grab a couple guys off the team and we’ll go up there,” Gage said.
For all the games Molly attends, Gage said it’s only fair for them to go to hers every once in a while.
And last week, they wanted to do one more small gesture.
When the five seniors finally arrived at Molly’s seat in the bleachers, Gage offered her a bouquet of flowers, an emotional embrace and — perhaps most importantly — the game ball.
“Out of my four years playing baseball, that was probably my most special moment,” said Gage, his voice wavering a bit from the emotion of the moment.
When she got home, Molly placed the baseball in a safe place in her room, just like she did with a home run ball she got from Frank Wilson a few years back.
The rest of the day, Doug said, she was “grinning from ear to ear.”
Molly has enjoyed every moment of the Polar Bears’ run this season and as Doug said, “She talks about it all the time around the house and how she can’t wait to go to Charleston (for the state tournament Friday).”
But while she’s been watching the team and learning about each of the players, perhaps others should be watching her and learning something about more than just a baseball game.
“I wouldn't want her any other way. Seeing the way she treats people with respect. I don't think she's ever been mean to anyone,” Gage said. “A lot of people who don't have cerebral palsy should be more like her.”
Email Mike DeFabo at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @MikeDeFaboTWV.