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Viera still an inspiration

STATE COLLEGE — The State College Spikes’ #SaveOurSpikesa campaign kicked off at a press conference on Thursday morning at the Centre County Visitor Center.

By far the most powerful part of the presentation came from Dave Bohner’s remarks. Bohner, the grandfather of the late Josiah Viera, who battled progeria, died on Christmas Eve in 2018 at the age of 14.

Viera’s love for baseball began when he was 6 years old playing the sport in the backyard. By age 10, Viera had his entire community coming out to watch his first Little League game, and he was profiled twice by ESPN’s E:60. Bohner and Jake Gronsky co-wrote a book entitled ‘A Short Season: Faith, Family, and a Boy’s Love for Baseball,’ that is a memoir of Viera’s life.

In 2013, Viera was no longer able to play baseball because of arthritis and was later extended an offer to attend a State College Spikes’ game in 2013 from Children’s Miracle Network. The night turned into a special one, as a Spikes’ rally opened up the door for Viera’s future.

“There was a walk-off win that night and Josiah was invited out again,” Bohner recalled. “The next game he was there, there was another walk-off win. Coach Marvel at the time said, ‘We have to get him a locker’. Then Josiah’s incredible five-year journey with the State College Spikes began. He was given his own locker and was named honorary bench coach for the State College Spikes.”

Viera was well known throughout the State College community and adored by players and fans. Viera served as an inspiration to many and his never give up mentality inspired the clubhouse each summer.

Bohner believes that Josiah’s best moment was the last time he stepped foot on Medlar Field to make a pitching change during the 2019 New York-Penn League All-Star game.

“For many months leading up to the All-Star game, he had expressed his excitement that the All-Star game would be at home,” Bohner recalled. “The night of the All-Star game in the ninth inning, Josiah went out to the mound to change pitchers. At this point in his life it was extremely painful for him to even walk. The coach asked him if he wanted to be carried and he looked back and said ‘No, I’m walking out myself.’ He was a tough kid who wouldn’t admit he was in pain. After changing pitchers, he walked to home plate, with obvious pain on his face and the fans cheered him on as he tipped his hat for what would be his last season at Medlar Field. He later told me, ‘Pap, that was the best ever.'”

Viera’s legacy remains with the State College Spikes, as he received two New York-Penn League Championship rings when the Spikes won the league crown in 2014 and 2016. He received the Baseball Writers’ Association of America’s Good Guy Award in St. Louis in 2014. He was even recognized with the Minor League Baseball President’s Award in 2015 at baseball’s winter meetings in Nashville, Tennessee.

Viera’s favorite times with the Spikes included game day and doing play-by-play on the Spikes’ radio broadcasts with Joe Putnam and Steve Jones.

He also remains on the minds of former Spikes players, and his number was retired and hangs on the right field wall at the ballpark.

“Josiah, along with his family, have had the honor of meeting many players — some of whom have gone on to play Major League Baseball, some of whom we still stay in contact with,” Bohner said. “Those still playing ball or coaching, and some now in private life, all have said that Josiah had a positive impact on their lives.”

Bohner recognized the importance in the State College Spikes and what other minor league teams mean to their local communities, Bohner belives that Major League Baseball should re-consider cutting the affiliation of 42 franchises, because of the impacts they make in their communities.

“These things happen in minor league baseball,” Bohner said. “Josiah spent some time in Major League Baseball, but State College was his home. I can see it happening with other minor league teams, to look out for kids with special needs to get them to come to a ball game and treat them. I know the State College Spikes do that on a regular basis. It was a special event for Josiah. I see it happening with other minor league ball teams to support those kids and their families.”

Bohner expressed nothing but appreciation for the Spikes organization.

“It was great for Josiah and it gave him purpose,” he said. “He loved baseball long before the Spikes came along, and he just enjoyed himself here. It was just one thing after another, and the Spikes have been like our family. When Josiah passed away a lot of these folks were our extended family that showed up at the funeral to support us and Josiah. It’s been an incredible journey and it will continue on. The Spikes are friends forever for us, and we are very grateful for what they did for Josiah.”

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