By Lindsey Bever August 14 at 6:10 AM
Four-year-old Adriana Aviles stepped up to the pitcher’s mound Thursday night moments before her dad, Cleveland Indians infielder Mike Aviles, took on the New York Yankees. Her candy red shoes and patchwork dress matched her twin sister’s and her shaved head matched the players’ on the team, shorn in her support.
For months, Adriana has been battling leukemia. The Indians have rallied around her, designing “Team Adriana” T-shirts and sporting shaved heads in solidarity, including team owner Paul Dolan. “It’s a team thing,” second baseman Jason Kipnis told the Cleveland Plain Dealer in May. “It started with Mike’s daughter because of what she’s going through.”
Then this week, they made good on a promise: Adriana and her twin sister, Maiya, could throw out some ceremonial first pitches in the series finale.
“The biggest thing for me is my joy comes from my kids,” Aviles told theAssociated Press. “I have three girls and a boy on the way. I enjoy just seeing them happy. It makes me happy. That’s what you want to do as a parent, you want your kids to be happy. You don’t want to see them crying. You want to see them always laughing and joking. When they’re having a good time, I’m excited.”
Aviles took emergency leave while she underwent her first treatment. Eight games later, he rejoined the team.
“Mike is one of the best clubhouse guys there is in the entire league,” Kipnis told the Plain Dealer. “He’s been a great person and a great teammate. I think all the guys have done a good job of stepping up to make him feel welcome and back at home and that nothing has changed.
“Numerous guys have told him that if he needs anything at any time that they’ll be there for him.”
One by one, the players started to shave their heads. “She’s going to be losing her hair soon from chemotherapy,” Kipnis said, “and we all wanted to join in.” Then the gesture started to spread. “It might seem silly, shaving your heads, but it’s more the thought that goes with it,” Francona added. “I’m really proud of a lot of people. It’s not just our players. It’s our clubbies, it’s our trainers, it’s our owner, it’s our front office, it’s everybody.”
Aviles buzzed Dolan’s head in the Indians’ dugout. “You have a good-shaped head,” Aviles said.
“It was a chance to show Mike that beyond hits and errors and runs, we care about him and his family,” Francona told the Plain Dealer. “It may be a silly way to show it, but I think the feeling is very legitimate and genuine.”
By the summer, teammates were wearing bright orange T-shirts with Adriana’s name.
“It’s been a tough time, but considering the circumstances, I think things have played out in a good way,” Aviles told MLB.com. “And I think a lot of that has to do with all the support I’ve gotten. Without that, I don’t know if I would have been able to even get through the year.”