Twelve-year-old Eli has faced life-threatening medical conditions and survived not once, but twice. Born as a preemie, Eli spent the first few months of his life living at Levine Children’s Hospital. Enduring many tests and procedures, he was finally given a clean bill of health and was able to go home. From that day on, health wise, Eli had a relatively uneventful childhood. Then, at the age of twelve his family’s world was turned upside down when he was diagnosed with Burkitt’s Lymphoma, a cancer of the lymphatic system.
Before his diagnosis, a normal day for Eli consisted of school and baseball practice. After his diagnosis, Eli spent the rest of the school year and his entire summer break receiving treatments as he had to undergo four round of chemotherapy. The small community Eli lived in was stunned by his diagnosis and started looking for ways to rally around his family. A cooler branded with their new motto, “Shenise Strong” started making rounds through their church, neighborhood and friends providing a dinner for the family on various nights during Eli's treatment.
During one of his treatment sessions, Eli’s oncologist mentioned to the family that Eli qualified for a Make-A-Wish. A humble and serious child, his passion of baseball was the only thing he wanted to pursue. To get the most out of his experience, Eli decided he wanted to become a member of his hometown team, the Charlotte Knights.
To enhance the wish experience, Eli’s mother Niki worked with Make-A-Wish to keep the actual day the wish would happen a secret from both him and his father. It was the last two weeks of the Knights season and Eli was under the impression that he’d be waiting until next season to have his wish granted. And, since it would be later the team wanted to invite him out for a behind-the-scenes tour and have Eli and his family attend the last home game of the season as their VIP guests. After arriving, Homer, the team’s mascot, quickly escorted Eli upstairs to a press conference where it was announced his wish was indeed being granted – and was happening that very day.
During his first press conference, Eli signed a one-day contract and received his official uniform, complete with his lucky number 37 on the back from the Knights’ Chief Operating Officer, Dan Rajkowski and team manager, Joel Skinner. He was thrilled to be one step closer to having his wish come true. When asked what this wish meant to him, Eli responded that being a professional baseball player was a dream for him, and one that he was going to work for, no matter how hard it would be. He was excited to have the chance to play ball with the big boys and get feedback from professional coaches.
After the conference, Eli practiced with the team to prepare for the 7:05 p.m. game against the Gwinnett Braves. He clearly had his game-face on. He constantly asked the players for improvements and tips. He did not want to waste the opportunity to get advice from the professionals! After throws, catches, and batting practice; Eli, his dad, and the team went into the locker room to relax before the game.
Eli was announced as the honorary first baseman for the game and even threw out the first pitch. He spent the game rotating between sitting with his new teammates and sitting in the VIP section with his friends and family. To show their support of Eli and the battles he has won, the Knights players all wore bright green wristbands to raise awareness of non-Hodgkin lymphoma. This day strengthened Eli’s dreams of becoming a baseball player and Eli says he is going to work really hard to make his dreams come true of becoming a full-time Charlotte Knights baseball player.