The Mahoning Valley Scrappers have advanced to the New York-Penn League Finals, but postseason baseball currently ranks a distant second in the hearts and minds of the team and its fans.
On Sept. 2, 4-year-old Lucas Holko was struck in the back of the head by a foul ball while attending a Scrappers game. The impact fractured his skull, putting pressure on his brain and causing it to swell. The young baseball fan remains in a medically induced coma at Akron Children's Hospital, as doctors must wait for the swelling to subside before determining their next course of action.
The accident occurred during the second game of the Wednesday doubleheader. The Holko family was watching the game from seats located right behind first base, and Lucas was seated in his father's lap.
"We're big baseball fans, so we know the danger [of foul balls]," said Nicole Holko, Lucas' mother, during a press conference held at Akron Children's Hospital this past Friday. "We were trying to see where the balls were going when they were hit, because we knew this was something that could happen ... It was just one of those things, where one second we didn't look and one pitch we didn't look."
Lucas has a long road to recovery, but recent signs have been positive. Nicole Holko wrote in an online journal Wednesday that Lucas has squeezed her hand and initiated breaths on his own. She went on to note that his progress has been "amazing" in the week since the accident occurred.
The Holko family, as well as the entire Scrappers organization, have been the recipients of a tremendous amount of goodwill throughout the past week.
"It's just been unbelievable the amount of support he's received," said Scrappers general manager David Smith. "Not just from our fans and members of the team and front office, but from the entire community."
Indeed, the Mahoning Valley area has mobilized in an effort to help defray mounting medical costs. A local Sam's Club discount store held a Labor Day barbeque and donated the proceeds to the Holko family, and a fund has been set up in Lucas' name through a local banking chain. The New York-Penn League has also played a key role in the fundraising efforts. All four teams involved in the NYPL playoffs -- Brooklyn, Staten Island, and Lowell in addition to Mahoning Valley -- have solicited donations from fans during games, and this effort will continue throughout the entirety of the postseason.
"[The donations to the Holko Fund] show what a great league this really is ... if an incident happens, we're all in it together," said Smith, whose club held a benefit for Lucas during Wednesday's semifinal win over the Cyclones.
The incident did not go unnoticed by the Cleveland Indians, who have been the Scrappers' parent club since the 2004 campaign. Upon hearing about Lucas' injury, infielder Jamey Carroll took it upon himself to collect an assortment of autographed memorabilia and also arranged to have the entire team sign a get-well card. This Major League goody bag was personally delivered to the Holko family by Katie Wedge, wife of Indians manager Eric Wedge.
Those interested in following Lucas' progress can do so by visiting a personalized website hosted by CaringBridge.org. The site contains frequent updates on his medical status as well as a guestbook and family photos.
"Family members have been updating the site once or twice a day, so this is a great way for people to see how he's doing," said Smith.
And if the events of the past week are any indication, interest in young Lucas' recovery will only continue to grow.
"The story is getting out there on the national level, so we've started to hear from other Minor League teams as well," said Smith. "Everyone is pulling together, flooding the organization and family with their support ... This has been a very tough situation, but we're all doing what we can to turn it into a positive."
Of course, the ultimate positive will be the day when Lucas is back on his feet.
"[Lucas is] energetic, go-go-go all the time," said Nicole Holko at Friday's press conference. "He's always happy, he's very affectionate ... He's our life."