Algoma boy’s trip to Milwaukee Brewers spring training turns him into a new fan
PHOENIX – The Milwaukee Brewers may have found themselves a new fan in a 9-year-old from Algoma with a health condition.
Owen Strege hadn't shown much interest in baseball, his mother said, having just started to show an interest in sports last year.
But then Strege became one of three boys from Wisconsin chosen by the Brewers and Aurora Health Care to be special guests of the Major League Baseball team, along with the youths' families, at the opening weekend of games during their spring training camp in Phoenix.
While there from Feb. 23 to 26, the boys met and got autographs from players, toured the players lounge (where they had their own lockers), threw out the first pitch of the Brewers' first training game of the season (Feb. 25 against the Los Angeles Dodgers) and took part in the T-shirt toss to fans at the game. They also received Brewers jerseys with their names and No. 23 on the back and other team goodies during the Feb. 18 announcement of the trip at American Family Field, the team's home park in Milwaukee.
So what does Strege think of baseball and the Brewers now?
"Owen is looking forward to redoing his room with all of his new Brewers memorabilia," said his mother, Kayla Strege, "and attending future games at American Family Field this year. This was definitely a trip he will be talking about for years to come."
"I liked it all," Owen said about the weekend.
The boys were selected after Aurora asked its health care providers to nominate children with serious health conditions. Owen has a growth hormone deficiency that requires an injection every night until he's near adulthood to be able to keep growing. Nolen Rosenthal of Fannon was diagnosed with an inherited genetic condition commonly called “soft bone disease” where his bones don’t mineralize calcium and break easily. Dazian Garcia of Greenfield is marking the one-year anniversary of open-heart surgery to repair a congenital heart condition.
The adventure started with a little bit of a hitch for the Strege family, which besides Owen and Kayla includes his father, Bill, and siblings, Chelsea and Hudson. They were due to fly out of Green Bay to Chicago on Feb. 23, where they would catch a flight to Phoenix, along with the other two boys and their families.
However, a massive winter storm blanketed most of Wisconsin Feb. 22 and 23 with heavy snow and/or freezing rain, leading to the Streges' flight out of Green Bay to be preemptively canceled the day before the storm dropped more than 10 inches of snow on the area.
Aurora stepped up to provide transportation for the family to Chicago the evening before so they could catch the flight to Phoenix as planned, although that left the Streges scrambling to get ready for the trip a day earlier than expected.
But once in Phoenix, "The weekend was nothing short of amazing," Kayla said. "The hospitality shown by Aurora and Brewers organization was phenomenal."
The activities started on the first night the families were in Phoenix. The Streges were joined for dinner on a patio at their hotel by Brewers players Aaron Ashby and Owen Miller, who signed autographs for Owen.
The next day, Feb. 24, the boys and their families toured the team's spring training facilities and ballpark there, getting to watch players practice and warm up. They met with Brewers manager Craig Counsell, were visited by infielder Willy Adames and got autographs from Adames, 2018 National League MVP Christian Yelich, 2021 Cy Young Award winner Corbin Burnes, Garrett Mitchell, Rowdy Tellez and Luke Voit.
At the opening game the next day, along with throwing out the first pitch and taking part in the T-shirt toss, Owen got another surprise when Miller joined the family to watch the first few innings with them.
It may be no surprise that Owen has a favorite Brewer now, and that it's Miller instead of stars like Yelich, Burnes or Adames; home run slugger Tellez, who belted one on his first swing of spring training in Saturday's game; or fast-rising prospect Mitchell. It's partially because they have a first name in common, of course, and that Miller is a Wisconsin native (from Fredonia, played at Ozaukee High School). But Kayla said the fanship also comes from how personable Miller was when spending time with Owen and the family.
"He felt like a true friend just hanging out with us," Kayla said.
Owen said he was excited that he met many of the players and got their autographs, as well as having a locker of his own. Kayla said Owen and their family will look on the trip as an unforgettable experience.
"The relationships made, connections built, and even the inspiring words of Craig Counsell, 'Your dreams only have to make sense to you,' will stay near and dear to our hearts," she said.
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's trip to Milwaukee Brewers spring training turns him into a new fan