Young Indians fan Niko presented with home run balls
CLEVELAND -- It sure seemed as though fate was involved when it comes to the story of 8-year-old Indians fan Niko Lanzarotta.
Lanzarotta -- diagnosed with cerebral palsy at 8 months old -- asked Carlos Santana and Jason Kipnis if they could each hit a home run for him on Aug. 24. Both came through on the promised blasts, and the fans who caught the home run balls presented Lanzarotta and his family with the baseballs prior to Saturday's game against the Mets at Progressive Field.
"It's been unbelievable," said Mike Lanzarotta, Niko's father. "When we came down that day, his favorite player is Carlos Santana, we just wanted to be able to get a picture with him and an autograph. Everything over and above that has been just icing on the cake."
During Saturday's visit, which included Asdrubal Cabrera providing Niko with a pair of batting gloves and Michael Bourn stopping by to talk and sign an autograph, even more layers to this story were revealed.
Megan Gillombardo, who works with special-needs children at local Mayfield High School, dove to retrieve the first-inning home run delivered by Santana on Aug. 24. Kipnis' homer landed in the bullpen down the right-field line, but someone tossed the ball to Mike Larkin, who said he is in remission from non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.
As he stood back from the crowd on the field, watching the Lanzarotta family interact with the Indians' players, Larkin could not help but get emotional about being able to give Niko the baseball.
"This is a once-in-a-lifetime thing for me," said Larkin, who is from New Philadelphia, Ohio. "The Indians got me through [my past health issues]. That's another reason it was a no-brainer. I know what the Indians mean to him."
Larkin and Gillombardo both reached out to the Indians on their own to find out how they could present the baseballs to Niko, whose mom, Kasia, is expecting twins later this year. Santana, who again spent time chatting with his No. 1 fan on Saturday, pushed for the team to bring the Lanzarotta family back to Progressive Field.
"It's pretty awesome. I actually got a little teary-eyed," Gillombardo said. "It was awesome to see [Niko] that excited and happy."