Saturday's doubleheader between Paonia and Rangely doubled as a fund-raiser for the family of Greg Podgorny of Hotchkiss.
Podgorny, a husband and dad who is known for his great wit and wisdom and ability to brighten spirits wherever he goes, is also a big supporter of baseball.
About two years ago Podgorny was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, which damages the neuromuscular system. It is known more commonly as Lou Gehrig's Disease after the New York Yankees' first baseman whose career was cut short by ALS.
Greg's wife, Moni, son Slater and daughter, Ciena, also attended the game. Slater, who is in the seventh grade, was made an honorary team member for the day. He warmed up with the Eagles, was the bat boy, and threw out the opening pitch.
"It's a lot of fun," said Slater after Paonia's 20-10 win in game one.
Greg watched from a wheelchair. He was visited by friends and strangers alike, who chatted up baseball and wished him and his family well. As a reflection of his infectiously positive outlook on life, Podgorny sported a light blue T-shirt with the words "carpe manana," seize tomorrow.
Paonia teachers Gingy Molacek and Tracy Campbell shared the Podgornys' story with Paonia baseball coach Drew Potter. He suggested the fund-raiser.
Everyone on the team supported the idea, said Potter. "We all want to make it a positive thing."
Slater, a seventh grader, plays at shortstop and second base. He's been involved in the game for as long as he can remember. In 2011 he was a member of the TC Drillers U12 majors traveling baseball team and played in the Triple Crown 11U Baseball World Series in Steamboat Springs. He travels regularly to Fruita to play ball and competes locally during summer months.
His dad played little league, high school and college ball in his home state of Illinois. Greg followed his son's budding career, and was a volunteer coach on all of his teams. "He coached me as long as he could," said Slater of his dad. "He's been a great influence."
Several Paonia players have umpired at Slater's games, and are friends and mentors to Slater and his friends. TK Kendall and Taylor Katzer are among those players.
"I thought it was an awesome idea," said Kendall of the fund-raiser. "They're goobers like us."
"We're playing for more than just a game," said Katzer, a third baseman and pitcher.
Katzer can relate to Slater's situation. His dad, Greg Katzer, was a graduate of Central High School, where he played on the school's state championship basketball team. He worked at Wal-Mart for 18 years. Katzer died of cancer in 2008, shortly after taking a job at Halliburton. Taylor Katzer was 13.
Slater "reminds me of us when we were small," said Katzer.
There was a sizeable crowd Saturday. Between gate fees, a bake sale and beanbag toss, the event raised $1,229 for the Podgorny family, which will be used to cover medical costs not paid under insurance and other associated costs.
"That's about three times what we expected," said Molacek. "Everybody was just amazingly generous," said Molacek.
A coach from Nucla heard about the upcoming fund-raiser at the March 26 double-header at Paonia and donated $20, saying that his sister also had ALS.
"I'm a little bit surprised by all the people that have showed up," said Slater while hanging out with his family between games. "It's nice to see all the people here that have come to support my dad."