Gripping a baseball in her Arizona Diamondbacks-detailed 3D-printed hand, 8-year-old Hailey Dawson leaned forward and pitched her 22nd ceremonial first pitch to outfielder David Peralta at Chase Field on Saturday.
Her parents and 13-year-old brother watched from the sidelines as Hailey inched closer to her goal — pitching the ceremonial first pitch at every Major League Baseball park.
The Nevada native has eight more to go and hopes to reach her goal at the Los Angeles Angels’ Angel Stadium in Anaheim on Sept. 16.
Hailey, ahead of her Phoenix pitch, met Diamondbacks Manager Torey Lovullo and left fielder Jon Jay before the game in the batting cages. She gave Lovullo a high-five and Jay a fist bump. Both signed her robotic hand, and Jay signed a bat for her as well.
“It’s heavy,” Hailey said, lifting up the bat in front of a mirror.
To preserve the autograph, Hailey grabbed a different bat before entering the cage, where she hit off a tee with the Diamondbacks staff.
Hailey’s journey began four years ago as her mom, Yong, watched someone throw the ceremonial first pitch at a University of Nevada Las Vegas baseball game.
“You know I bet Hailey could do that,” Yong said she thought to herself.
At the time, Yong was working with the university’s college of engineering to design and build a 3D-printed hand for Hailey.
Born with Poland Syndrome, a disorder in which affected individuals are born with missing or underdeveloped muscles on one side of the body, Hailey has underdeveloped fingers on her right hand.
Hailey said the only thing different about her and other kids is her hand.
Yong said she doesn’t want Hailey to think of her hand as a disability. The 3D-printed robotic arm university students made for Hailey allows her to grip and throw things, such as a baseball.
Gripping a baseball, holding her dad’s hand
“It was the first time Hailey was able to really hold her dad’s hand,” Yong said.
Her dad, Greg, said the simple things, from holding his hand to picking up her Halloween bucket, were emotional. Let alone, traveling the nation to pitch at Major League games.
Yong first reached out to the university to see if Hailey could pitch the ceremonial first ball with her new robotic hand, and they agreed.
That sparked excitement in Yong, who decided to email the Baltimore Orioles to see if Hailey could pitch there. They were going to visit Greg’s family in Maryland regardless so she thought it was worth a shot.
“Honestly I didn’t think anyone was going to answer her email, but then someone did answer,” Greg said.
Hailey threw out a pitch at the Orioles game in August 2015.
“For her to get on the field and throw the ball to Manny Machado, who is one of my favorite baseball players, it was surreal,” Greg said. “I started to tear up because of how much it meant for me to have my mom, who was battling cancer at the time, and family there watching her.”
Others captivated by Hailey’s story
Things calmed down after that, until Bleacher Report, a website focused on sports and sports culture, wrote about Hailey.
“After Bleacher Report shared Hailey’s story last year, she went viral,” Yong said. “I told them how Hailey wanted to throw the first pitch at every stadium and we got a call from the MLB the next day.”
After going viral, United Airlines offered to sponsor Hailey and Yong’s trips to every Major League Baseball stadium. Greg said he’s been working overtime so he can’t make every game.
“Yong has put her career on hold for a little bit to do this for Hailey,” Greg said. “I’m putting in extra time to make sure they’re set when they travel. It’s a lot, but I know how much this means to Hailey and it’s worth it.”
New hand for every ballpark
Yong and Hailey have visited 22 stadiums so far. Hailey gets a new hand printed with the logo of each team she pitches for.
As Hailey’s recognition grew, so did an online community for other moms who have children with Poland Syndrome.
Using Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, moms reach out to Yong for advice on how they can get 3D-printed hands for their kids.
“I’ve been able to help a few women out,” Yong said. “One woman from Oklahoma saw her (Hailey’s) story and reached out to me. I did the leg work of talking to the university near her to see if they could print her son a hand and they did. We were able to meet her and her son at baseball game in Texas.”
By partnering with universities, some families have been able to provide their children with robotic hands capable of gripping and throwing, while keeping the price at a fraction of what it costs for a typical prosthetic hand, she said.
Greg said the materials for printing a robotic hand cost around $300 while some prosthetic hands will go for thousands of dollars.
Yong isn’t the only one building a sense of community, Hailey has made friends along the way too.
“I got home one day and saw Hailey FaceTiming someone on her iPad,” Greg said. “I asked her who she was talking to and she said, ‘Sophia, she doesn’t have fingers on her hand either.’ She found someone she could relate to, someone who shared her struggles.”
As she prepares to make her last pitch this fall, Yong has reached out to Guinness World Records about Hailey being the first person in history to throw the ceremonial first pitch at every Major League ballpark.
While they wait for a response, Hailey will go back to school in late August and continue doing what she enjoys most — listening to Taylor Swift, hanging out with her best friends and swimming.
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