Improbable baseball victory dedicated to 17-year-old Josh Weaver
Courtesy of Emily Gauci/Arizona Athletics
Third baseman Bobby Dalbec (3) and pitcher Cody Moffett (37) celebrate during the Wildcats' win over UCLA at Hi Corbett Field on Saturday, March 26. Arizona dedicated its victory to Josh Weaver, a fan who died before the season began.
Saturday’s series finale against UCLA was an emotional day for the Arizona baseball team.
Not only did the Wildcats beat all odds, scoring five runs in the bottom of the ninth to come away with a 6-5 win and a series victory over a ranked UCLA opponent, but they did so while playing for Josh Weaver, a 17-year-old Wildcats fan who died of cancer before the season started.
“Josh was a very special kid with an unbelievable personality that was just infectious to be around,” said Jimmy Van Ostrand, Arizona’s director of player development. “He’s going to be sorely missed by all the guys on our team. But the best thing I can say is that his infectious personality has rubbed off on a lot of people.”
Fans in attendance were encouraged to wear yellow to commemorate the occasion, while the Wildcats wore yellow wristbands and shirts under their jerseys that read a simple message.
Weaver’s father threw out the ceremonial first pitch while a tribute video—created by junior outfielder Sawyer Gieseke—played on Hi Corbett Field’s brand new video board to celebrate Weaver’s impact on the team.
“That was all done by our players and the idea was all done by our players and [Van Ostrand],” said Arizona head coach Jay Johnson. “Before we got into the day and the game plan and all of that, I just said, ‘Hey, stuff like that makes me really proud to be associated with this particular group of guys.’”
Then, with Weaver in mind, Cameron Ming delivered the first pitch of the game.
“It’s an honor,” said Ming about being the starting pitcher. “To do it in Josh’s name, I had never been able to be part of something like that. ... I think, if anything, you just kind of have that thought in your head that, ‘I want to get this done for my team and for Josh,’ and anytime you have that motivation, it works for you, not against you.”
That extra motivation didn’t seem to work for the Wildcats for a majority of the game.
They didn’t score their first run until the sixth inning and found themselves trailing 5-1 heading into the bottom of the ninth.
But the Wildcats weren’t going to go away quietly.
“I know we’re going to have a little extra something in the dugout today, knowing that you’re watching over this ballgame, so we’re going to play for you in this one,” Gieseke said before the game. “We’re going to leave it all on the field today.”
And they did.
The Wildcats rallied, bringing home five runs in the bottom of the ninth to complete the comeback.
As the team mobbed Bobby Dalbec for delivering the game-winning hit, it was clear this was more than just a walk-off victory.
The win was for Weaver, who may have been the difference in the game.
“There’s no question that it was a huge inspiration for us,” said Johnson. “His family is so special. The way his mom and dad have acted has been a good example for our players and our program and it’s pretty unique and has been pretty special.”
As the Wildcats’ season rolls on, Weaver’s presence and infectious personality will continue to be felt in the clubhouse.
“[Weaver’s] tradition will be carried on with all of us,” Van Ostrand said.
While Weaver, as an avid Arizona baseball fan, looked up to the Wildcat players, the players have learned a thing or two from him as well.
“We are forever grateful for your positivity, your impact, passion and how you competed and battled every day,” the players said in the tribute video.
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