By Jean DePlacido
---- — BOSTON — It was a day young Jacoby Catanzano will never forget.
The 9-year-old Jacoby — who overcame severe medical problems to move up from Danvers Little League’s Challenger program to a standard Danvers National Little League team this summer — was treated like royalty at Fenway Park in the final regular season home game for the Boston Red Sox. It was all set up by New England Sports Network (NESN) after reading Jacoby’s unique and touching story in The Salem News last month.
Jenny Dell, the popular field reporter for NESN, escorted Jacoby and his parents, David and Heather Catanzaro, on a tour of Fenway Park before yesterday’s game against the Toronto Blue Jays. That included a visit to the top of the fabled Green Monster and also up to the press box to meet NESN’s play-by-play voice, Don Orsillo. The youngster knows the names of every Red Sox player and does a spot-on imitation of Orsillo.
But the highlight of the day came when he met his favorite Red Sox player, center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury. The Gloucester resident identifies so closely with the Red Sox’s leadoff hitter that nurses at Children’s Hospital call him “Jacoby Ellsbury,” because when he sees the Sox outfielder on TV, he hears “Jacoby” and thinks it’s him.
Ellsbury greeted his biggest fan with a bear hug, and they talked baseball. Ellsbury also signed the young Jacoby’s Red Sox uniform.
“The best part of all was talking to Ellsbury,” said the youngster, who showed up ready to play yesterday, even wearing eye black. “He gave me his batting gloves and wristbands.”
The well-worn gloves were a big hit, and Jacoby wore them proudly, demonstrating an Ellsbury-style slide.
David Catanzaro said the star athlete has no idea what motivation he has been for his son and how often his name is spoken by therapists.
“This is Make a Wish times 10,” said Catanzaro, a probation officer. “Seeing Jacoby interact with Ellsbury is a dream come true, and it’s motivation that is going to last for a long time.”
Jacoby, who was diagnosed with West Syndrome, Landau Kleffner Syndrome and autism, began the season in the Danvers LL Challenger program for children with mental or physical handicaps. He performed so well that he was promoted to a standard Danvers National LL team, an extraordinary move. A left-handed pitcher, he played so well at that level that he was chosen for DNLL’s 8-and-9-year-old all-star team. He was the winning pitcher in the championship game of the Manchester-Essex District 15 Invitational tournament and also helped his team to victory in the Stan Brown Tournament.
Heather Catanzaro said her son watches baseball games on television and pays close attention to Ellsbury at the plate.
“He mimics his stance and hand movements. Jacoby even throws the batting gloves off when he gets to first base,” she said.
“This is just an amazing day for all of us, and while Jacoby may not understand it all, he’s having a great time. So many people have shown such empathy; they’ve been touched and inspired by what Jacoby has done.”
Dell interviewed Jacoby and his parents for a mini-feature that was shown on NESN during the sixth inning of yesterday’s game, a 5-2 win for the American League East champs. Jacoby told Dell before the game that whenever he goes to Fenway Park, the Red Sox always win — and his prediction came true again yesterday.
“The president of NESN, Sean McGrath, saw the story about Jacoby in The Salem News. He emailed me, and I’m happy we arranged a special day for him,” said Dell. “Who could resist those big eyes and big smile? He’s a charmer.
“He loves being at the ballpark, and I’m so happy he was able to meet his favorite player,” added Dell. “It’s an honor for me to do this.”
Jacoby’s 13-year-old sister, Vidriana, and his brother, Nicolias, who will be 4 next month, also enjoyed the festivities.
“Nicolias wanted to wear his Red Sox shorts today,” said Heather Catanzaro. “He wants to do everything Jacoby does.
“I was nervous about talking to Jenny because it’s hard to talk on the spot when you know you’re on camera.”
The family recently received some discouraging news about Jacoby’s medical condition. “Earlier this month he had an EEG, and now they’re going to do an MRI at Children’s Hospital this week,” David Catanzaro said. “They’re checking for brain inflammation.
“In the midst of our discouragement, he has been blessed with this special day which has lifted our spirits so much. I can’t say enough about all the wonderful people that have made all this possible.”