Yanks honor trainers who share a bond (and a liver!) for HOPE Week

June 18th, 2024
Jon Becker, left, and Mike Sole

NEW YORK -- When Mike Sole and Jon Becker met as athletic trainers in the Yankees’ Minor League system, they had no idea they’d wind up tied to each other for life.

In May 2022, after both had left the organization for other career paths, Sole grew ill and began suffering from constant fatigue and abdominal pain. By the following spring, he’d developed jaundice, swollen legs and mental fogginess. Doctors eventually determined Sole, then 30 years old, had developed blood clots in his liver, and an array of operations failed to provide a long-term solution. Sole needed a living liver transplant, which requires a living individual to donate part of their liver.

Becker had already been assisting in Sole’s medical care, raising $25,000 on a GoFundMe page called “Mike Sole Needs a New Liver.” But when Becker learned his blood type matched Sole’s, he soon realized he could do even more. On Oct. 31, 2023, Becker and Sole successfully underwent the lifesaving joint procedure.

Mike Sole, left, and Jon Becker

“What Jon did was very selfless,” Sole said. “A year ago, I was really ill. To be here now and feeling like my old self is truly amazing. I didn’t think at that time that this was possible.”

On Tuesday, Sole and Becker reunited for the first time since the transplant as part of HOPE Week, the Yankees’ annual community outreach program that aims to spotlight the good people do for others and help pay it forward. Sole and Becker were part of a Yankees contingent that included manager Aaron Boone, reliever Michael Tonkin and prospect Austin Wells to visit the Bronx’s famed Arthur Avenue, where they made mozzarella at the Arthur Avenue Market, cannolis at a local bakery and enjoyed lunch at the legendary Roberto’s Italian restaurant.

The idea was to provide Sole and Becker with the kind of true Arthur Avenue experience they weren’t able to enjoy during the COVID-19 pandemic, when both played critical roles on the organization’s intake-testing team.

“They were incredibly popular within our organization,” Boone said. “They are part of this inspiring story that I know is going to impact other people in the donor world. To see those two guys, the friendship they formed, then the even greater bond they formed during the donations, it’s inspiring, and I know it’ll probably save a life.”

This is the 15th year of HOPE Week, and for the first time, the Yankees chose their honorees with a common theme in mind: showcasing the good social media can do. The organization strove to spotlight individuals who have embraced social media as a tool to uplift, inspire and celebrate what people can achieve when unifying around kindness.

In that spirit, the Yankees looked to harness the power of social media by using their platforms to raise awareness for organ donation, publishing social posts throughout the day Tuesday that detailed information about organ donation and promoting their campaign page with the nonprofit Donate Life America. The organization hopes to leverage its 17.7 million combined followers on their social platforms to help save lives and encourage fans to sign up to become a potential organ donor.

Mike Sole, left, and Jon Becker

With Sole and Becker, they found a story that hits close to home, as both came up through the organization’s Minor Leagues as strength trainers in the late 2010s. When the COVID-19 pandemic struck, their roles changed drastically. As intake testers, Sole and Becker checked temperatures and symptoms of Yankees players, coaches and staff as they arrived to work each day, becoming known as the “intake task force.” The pair grew so inseparable they even became roommates in 2020 and '21.

What happened next tied them to one another forever.

“The change I saw in Michael from before the transplant to after -- the day after, he was a brand-new man again,” Becker said. “To be able to bring that to other people around the world ... You may not all be called to donate an organ, but there are so many ways to get involved with Donate Life. … I’m just blessed to be a part of Mike’s story in that way.”