Inspiration can be a two-way street. As far as Taylor Mowry is concerned, the Altoona Curve keep her going.
"It feels like I'm part of the family and part of the team," she said. "I'm so glad to be able to be part of Opening Day with them and celebrate with them. After everything they've just done for me, I can never thank them enough. They've changed my life entirely."
But the team gets an awful lot out of her, too.
The 14-year-old resident of nearby Claysburg, Pennsylvania, performed "God Bless America" during the seventh-inning stretch of the Curve's 3-2, 12-inning win over Akron on Thursday night, and her day with the Pittsburgh Pirates' Double-A affiliate started hours before the first pitch of the home opener. She offered a few words to Curve staff during their gameday meeting at 10 a.m.
"Today, with Opening Night, was our first one," general manager Derek Martin said. "She came in and kicked it off. It was super-uplifting just to hear from her, to hear her excitement. To our staff, she shed light on why what we do is important, what it does for the community and people out there. It makes you feel really good knowing that you're doing the right thing and to be able to have her come with her talented voice."
For six years, Mowry has been suffering from amplified musculoskeletal pain syndrome (AMPS), an ailment that the Cleveland Clinic describes as causing intense pain -- especially in children -- as a result of "an interruption or short circuit in the usual path that pain takes," which can cause constricting blood vessels and lactic acid build-up. It can limit mobility and make movement extremely painful. Although it's very difficult to diagnose and is a chronic condition, the Cleveland Clinic estimates that 85 percent of children who undergo intensive treatment make a complete recovery.
"AMPS is not something common. It's something where first you check everything textbook, and if it's not any of that, it's this," Mowry said. "It's so hard to have this. No one understands how awful and how hard it is to live with. ... If it wasn't for the Curve, I don't know if I could get through this. I don't think I would be here if not for those opportunities."
Laura Mowry, Taylor's mother, recognizes that it's not always clear to people how much pain her daughter is in.
"With having AMPS, it's something that's completely on the inside," she said. "Any stress you have amplifies it. When you look at [Taylor], she physically looks fine. Everyone always thinks she's fine. When she can't be mobile, or she has to use a wheelchair, people will look at her if she gets up, like, she didn't need to be using the wheelchair."
The lack of visible symptoms meant that Martin had no reason to suspect the teenage fan was suffering when he first met her last season.
"She came up to me and said, 'I always wanted to meet Cole Tucker. Do you think you could help me out?' I said, 'Sure.' After the game I went down, talked to Cole. I had no clue what was going on [with her health]. I knew she was a super fan, had a rare passion among young fans," Martin recalled. "But after that I learned a lot more. I was talking to her mom, and AMPS has no national foundation, only a statewide foundation. This is an opportunity where we could give it a platform and try to raise some awareness for what she's battling."
During that first meeting, Mowry -- who takes pictures of the action at the ballpark and prints copies for each of her subjects -- mentioned to Martin that she had some photos she'd like to share with Tucker, too. The GM spoke to the highly touted shortstop prospect after the game, and he was excited to see the shots. A special fan-player connection was established, and Tucker -- now with Triple-A Indianapolis -- hasn't forgotten the Mowrys.
"He's kept in touch in this last year," Laura Mowry said. "She writes him and he writes back. He encourages her to keep going, that it's going to get better. That means a lot as a parent, to have somebody who can inspire your child and give motivation in a way you can't. That's kind of what Derek does, too. When Derek started [Thursday's gameday meeting], he said, 'This is one of most inspiring people I've ever met.' The smiles on the staff. … I just cried. I was in tears. I was not expecting that."
Tucker has continually encouraged the younger Mowry's passion for photography and singing.
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"Cole told me to keep going," she said. "He's been inspiring me from Day 1. He tells me to make sure I'm pursuing my dreams. I tried out to sing the national anthem last year and I didn't make it, and he said, 'You better go back and try again.' I said, 'I will.'"
As a surprise, he sent the Curve a video greeting that was played on the stadium videoboard before Mowry sang on Thursday.
"When I got out here, I wasn't nervous because the Curve is like a second home to me," she said. "But when I saw that video, with him telling me to sing loud and proud, that gave me an extra little motivation. I sang good and loud, and I did it for me and for him."
The Mowrys recently gave Tucker a surprise of his own, driving to Columbus, Ohio, to see the Indians take on the Clippers for a couple games last weekend. After Sunday's matinee, Laura Mowry was able to express her gratitude to the 2014 first-rounder.
"It may not seem like much to him, but he really inspires her and gives her strength," Laura Mowry said. "So I thanked him from the bottom of my heart and told him, 'This [game] is going to take you very far.' He knew [the video] was coming for Taylor, but the way he shocked her, he had that same shock when we came out to see them."
Having kicked off the Minor League season back home in Pennsylvania, Mowry looks forward to coming out to Curve games all summer long. But the first one of the year is going to be hard to top.
"I'm still dreaming. I'm on cloud nine," she said. "I can't even find words to explain how amazing it was. It's a dream come true."