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Tigers make young fan's day with ASG tickets

MLB.com @beckjason

DETROIT -- Kyle Van Houten thought he was headed to Comerica Park to catch a Friday night game with his parents. He had no idea Michael Fulmer would be receiving his ceremonial first pitch, or that nearly two dozen family and friends would be with him for it.

"I thought it would be good," said the young resident of Howell, Mich., "but I didn't think it could possibly be this good."

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DETROIT -- Kyle Van Houten thought he was headed to Comerica Park to catch a Friday night game with his parents. He had no idea Michael Fulmer would be receiving his ceremonial first pitch, or that nearly two dozen family and friends would be with him for it.

"I thought it would be good," said the young resident of Howell, Mich., "but I didn't think it could possibly be this good."

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Van Houten was even more surprised when the Tigers' All-Star grabbed the microphone on the field.

"Enjoy your trip to this year's All-Star Game," Fulmer said as teammates Victor Martinez, Jose Iglesias and Francisco Liriano joined them in front of the dugout, complete with a giant ticket to the July 17 Midsummer Classic at Nationals Park and a flight to Washington, D.C.

"I wasn't nervous about the first pitch, but everything that happened after," Kyle said before the Tigers' 3-2 loss to the Royals in Game 2 of a doubleheader.

The evening was in honor of Make-A-Wish's World Wish Day, celebrated on April 29. Make-A-Wish has launched a month-long campaign to grant as many wishes as possible, highlighting how a wish can give people the mental strength to battle illness.

For Van Houten, the All-Star Game is the completion of a baseball journey that has taken him to every Major League park over the last decade. What began with a love of baseball became a journey that has helped lift him through his battle with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy.

"It definitely makes it worth it, all the struggles I've had to go through, to have moments like this," Van Houten said.

His love of baseball began, of course, with Tigers games, begging his parents to let him stay up and watch Justin Verlander try to finish off a no-hit bid. They went to games at Comerica Park, which led them to go to games when they traveled east to visit family in New Jersey. Sometimes they'd catch a game in New York, sometimes Pittsburgh, sometimes Philadelphia.

Video: KC@DET: Fulmer on strong start in Game 1, giving back

"When we started this, he hadn't even been diagnosed," his father, Keith Van Houten, said.

As Kyle's battle began, his love for the game grew stronger. They'd plan his visits to his specialist in Cincinnati around Reds homestands so they could catch a game. When his older brother, Jack, did a bicycle ride through the Midwest to raise money for MD research, they saw the Twins, Brewers and White Sox along the way.

As the condition progressed, the trips became more important. Keith and Julie Van Houten marveled at how vividly Kyle could remember even minute details from each game, each park.

"We didn't know the whole baseball plan," his mother said. "We didn't know how crazy he'd get into it."

Along the way, they found a player who felt the same about their cause. Rick Porcello met Kyle and his family through a mutual acquaintance eight years ago. Porcello was pitching for the Tigers at the time and he took a keen interest, inviting Van Houten to games, bringing him to the clubhouse to meet players, and keeping in touch. Their friendship continued after Porcello was traded to the Red Sox.

"He's been an inspiration," Julie Van Houten said. "We were sad to see him leave, but we still love the Tigers."

The Tigers, too, have kept involved with the cause.

The final stop on their ballpark tour was Wrigley Field last summer, before Kyle began classes at Bowling Green State University. He's a business major at BGSU, but he hosts a baseball show on the campus radio station.

"He's 18 already, and he's going to finish his first year at college," Julie Van Houten said. "We're so proud of him. It's just amazing."

Keith picked him up from Bowling Green earlier on Friday. Their trip up I-75 included a lengthy discussion of Kyle's ideas for rules changes in baseball, from expanded rosters to pace of play.

He had a lot more to discuss on the way home, including planning at least one more baseball trip.

"We've had a lot of struggles. He's had a lot of struggles to deal with," Keith said. "But there's been good times as well, and today's one of them. We can't thank the Tigers and Make-A-Wish enough for what they've done."

Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for MLB.com since 2002. Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and Facebook.

Detroit Tigers, Michael Fulmer, Jose Iglesias, Victor Martinez