Martins Ferry Youth Celebrates Final Day Of Cancer Treatment With Baseball
BRIDGEPORT — Leo Zambori was the starting third baseman for Martins Ferry Black and listed as its cleanup hitter Wednesday night at Gould Park when it met Bridgeport Blue in Ohio Valley Junior Sports Pinto baseball action.
That’s nothing out of the ordinary for the 8-year-old.
What was out of the ordinary was what the soon-to-be third-grader at Martins Ferry Elementary School did earlier that day, something he will remember for the rest of his life.
Zambori, the son of Chad and Natalie Zambori, accomplished something that he had waited three-and-a-half years to do. He rang the bell Wednesday morning at Children’s Hospital, marking his final day of chemotherapy treatments in the Pittsburgh-based facility for acute lymphocytic leukemia.
“Good,” the blonde-haired youngster shyly replied when asked how it felt to ring the ball. “I ended my chemo treatments today. It was 1,157 days.”
His mother said June 5, 2019, was a day the family has had circled on their calendar since receiving the stunning, life-changing news on April 4, 2016, that their son had cancer.
“We’ve been counting it down. Hopefully he will never have to go through anything like this again,” his mother said while holding back her emotions. “It’s been a long journey for sure.”
Leo’s last appointment was at 11:30 a.m. Wednesday, according to his mother.
“He had to get his IV chemo and then he was able to ring the bell.”
Leo also knew he had a game that night.
“He was a little nervous that we weren’t going to get here like we usually do,” his father explained. “He’s usually one of the first kids here, but it took a little longer at the hospital. He knew we were going to make it before the game started, so he was OK with that.”
What Leo didn’t know is that the two teams had a celebration of their own planned upon his arrival.
“He knew about the game, but he didn’t know about anything else,” his mother said of the well-kept secret. “When we pulled into the parking lot and he saw everyone, he couldn’t wait to get out of the car and get to the field. He sprinted the whole way to the dugout.”
Once there, he was greeted by a tunnel formed of players from his team and the Bridgeport team. Some players held balloons and others gave him high-fives as he trotted onto the field to a round of applause from the nice-sized gathering of parents, family and friends.
Having Bridgeport as the opponent made the game twice as nice.
“Leo was in pre-school at Bridgeport and made friends with most of the kids on that (Bridgeport) team,” Chad Zambori said. “Then he got to be friends with the kids through sports. This is a great way to end a great day.”
The Zamboris said baseball has been Leo’s favorite sport since he was young.
“It’s something he looks forward to every day. He looks forward to practice. He looks forward to just going out in the yard and playing toss with me,” Chad continued. “Game days are the best for him because he gets to hang out with his buddies and play his favorite game.”
“It (baseball) makes him feel normal. I think that was really important to him,” Natalie stressed.
After all the pre-game hoopla, Leo was presented with his own special game jersey. The black T-shirt had the words “strike out cancer” across the front in white lettering. The ‘K’ was purple in color and turned backwards, which is a sign of when a batter looks at strike three. On the back across the top, also in white lettering, was “#leostrong.”
Leo’s jersey had No. 25 on the back.
“That was my number in high school,” Chad confessed. “He’s kind of taken it over. He’s had it since he started playing.”
The shirts were complements of the Martins Ferry mothers.
“All of these boys have been with Leo the entire journey,” Alyssa Pielech, whose son Dylan is a team member and who helped organize Wednesday’s celebration, said. “They know a little about what is going on with Leo because they do a lot of things in school. I’m not sure they realize the seriousness of it, but I do know they knew today was a special day for him.”
When action started in the six-inning, coach-pitch, contest, it didn’t take Leo and his teammates long to establish themselves. In his first at-bat, Leo belted the first pitch through the left side of the infield as a run scored. Never stopping at first, he rounded the bag and hustled into second for a double. He later sprinted home with a run.
“Leo has been on our team for three years now. We love him,” Martins Ferry Black coach Josh Lucas said. “We’ve all kind of gone through this with him and his family. All of the kids and parents are so excited that he has finally completed his treatments. He really fought through this.
“There are days when he would finish treatment early in the day and then show up for a game that night with a smile on his face like nothing ever happened,” Lucas added. “He’s never played without a smile on his face. He loves the game.”
Kori Rosnick, whose son played on the Bridgeport team, was also instrumental in setting up the event.
“This is huge. I’ve literally cried all day,” she admitted. “He got to ring that bell today. That was so emotional. I can’t imagine what the family feels like. I can’t imagine the relief and emotion. I really can’t.
“It’s great to see two teams come together and celebrate what really is important,” she added. “Today wasn’t about the game of baseball. Today was about the game of life.”