Algoma boy one of three going to Brewers spring training to throw out first pitch Saturday
ALGOMA – Owen Strege's family figured they were going to take him to a Milwaukee Brewers game this year. They just didn't think it would be the very first spring training game of the year, this Saturday in Phoenix, or that Owen would be on the field throwing out the first pitch.
The 9-year-old third grader at Algoma Elementary School is one of three children from Wisconsin with pediatric health issues who were selected by Aurora Health Care to be VIP guests of the Brewers at their spring training camp this weekend. Chosen along with Strege for the trip and the game are Milwaukee-area youths Nolen Rosenthal, 13, of Lannon and Dazian Garcia, 13, of Greenfield.
The youths and their families − in Owen's case, that includes his parents, Bill and Kayla Strege, and siblings, 6-year-old Chelsea and 4-year-old Hudson − will be flown to Phoenix on Thursday and return Sunday. While there, they will tour the spring training facilities, meet Brewers players for autographs and be honored guests for the team's first spring training game of 2023 Saturday against the Los Angeles Dodgers, where the boys will also throw out the first pitch.
The families found out they were going to spring training during a Feb. 18 ceremony on the warning track of American Family Field, the Brewers' home park, where they also received a Brewers jersey with their name and No. 23 on the back, toured the locker room, played games − a pingpong table and basketball shooting game were among those set up in the locker room − and visited with team members and Bernie Brewer, the team's well-known mascot.
Kayla Strege said the families were aware the team and Aurora, who are co-sponsoring the all-expenses trip, were planning something for Owen and the other youths when they were invited to the park last week, but they were very surprised to get a four-day baseball vacation in Arizona.
"We had no idea it was going to be to this extent," Kayla said. "We've been talking about taking the kids to a Brewers game this summer, and we thought it would be something like that."
The youths were selected after Aurora asked its health care providers for nominee children with serious health conditions. In Owen's case, he was diagnosed at 14 months old with "failure to thrive," meaning his weight or rate of weight gain is significantly below that of other children of similar age and sex. Kayla said it took more than two years before doctors pinned the cause on a growth hormone deficiency, so Owen needs to receive an injection every night until an age near adulthood to be able to keep growing.
"For a kid who doesn't like needles, it's been a bit trying," Kayla said. "But he's getting used to it."
The other youths attending have battled their own difficulties. Rosenthal was diagnosed with an inherited genetic condition commonly called “soft bone disease” where his bones don’t mineralize calcium and break easily, and Garcia is marking the one-year anniversary of open-heart surgery to repair a congenital heart condition.
Owen was nominated by his pediatrician, Dr. Donald Beno at Aurora Children's Health in Green Bay.
"(Beno) asked if it was OK if he nominated Owen for a special program (Aurora) had, and if Owen is a Brewer fan," Kayla said.
Kayla said Owen just started getting interested in sports last year, mainly soccer and basketball, but he was excited to find out he was chosen for this trip, even if he and the other two honorees didn't show it outwardly at first.
"He actually was pretty quiet on the way home Saturday," Kayla said. "Then he looked at me and said, 'Mom, I don't even know what to say.' I think it took a while for it to sink in for any of the kids."
Three days later, it has sunk in for Owen, who said he's still excited. Owen said he doesn't yet know much about the Brewers and their players, but Kayla said Owen is trying to learn more about the game as quickly as he can.
"He's been collecting baseball cards since this happened," she said with a chuckle. "My dad and grandfather are huge Brewers fans, so we're hoping this changes things for him."
Contact Christopher Clough at 920-562-8900 or [email protected].
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This article originally appeared on Green Bay Press-Gazette: Algoma boy one of three going to Brewers spring training to throw out first pitch Saturday