Photo Courtesy of Martha Hicks Robinson
Former Vermont Mountaineers player Pat Wiese, center, stands with his host parents, Norm Robinson and Martha Hicks Robinson, of Montpelier, at Fenway Park in Boston on Opening Day. Both Robinsons are wearing Team Patrick hats. Wiese, who recently beat osteosarcoma, will throw out the first pitch at tonight’s Mountaineers game in Montpelier.
MONTPELIER — Pat Wiese’s baseball career ended at Montpelier Recreation Field last summer, his last at-bat a single in the bottom of the ninth inning; his last play a stolen-base slide into second in which he pulled his quadriceps.
“It wasn’t the last game of the season,” he said, “but it was the last game for me. Little did I know that would be the last game I would ever play.”
Wiese, a speedy outfielder from Le Moyne College who was named a 2013 New England Collegiate Baseball League All-Star, had been bothered by pain in his right knee for months, but he chalked it up to overuse and suspected a bone bruise.
His father is an orthopedic surgeon. Wiese went home after that July 20 game — a 4-3 loss in which he went 2-for-4 with a run scored — and his father performed scans and tests.
On Sept. 10, the father diagnosed his youngest son with osteosarcoma — bone cancer.
“He set such a good example,” said Wiese’s host mother when he was with the Mountaineers, Martha Hicks Robinson. “He said, ‘If it had to happen to someone, it might as well be me, and I’m going to show it who’s boss.’ And that’s what he did.”
Wiese underwent total knee replacement surgery Oct. 3 in Syracuse, New York, near his hometown of Fayetteville, and began chemotherapy at the end of October at nearby Crouse Hospital.
“It was a five-week period where I’d be in (the hospital) for three weeks, then rest for two weeks,” he said. “I would do that over the next six months.”
On May 8, Wiese tweeted a picture of himself taken from behind, walking down a hallway at Crouse with his right fist in the air, the caption saying, “No words necessary.”
Wiese was free of cancer.
“That was the last day I needed chemotherapy, and that was the best news,” he said. “That was me walking out of the hospital for the last time.”
He will return to Recreation Field tonight for the Mountaineers’ contest with the Laconia Muskrats and will throw the first pitch before the 6:30 p.m. start as part of the team’s Cancer Awareness Night.
“He’s a great kid, a good team leader and was well-liked by the fans,” said Mountaineers General Manager Brian Gallagher.
Wiese will be featured on the cover of tonight’s program in a photo from last season.
“He’s being greeted at home plate by the whole team. It’s a neat picture,” Gallagher said. “It was a no-brainer to bring him back.”
The 22-year-old played in a different summer league before joining the Mountaineers last season.
“I’m really, really blessed,” Wiese said. “This is the only summer league that has asked me to come back. It’s such a close-knit community. Since day one when I arrived there, everyone from the townspeople to the front office to the players and coaches have been so welcoming. It’s in their nature to (ask me back). I’m excited to head back to Vermont and see familiar faces at the ballpark Friday night.”
His host family, Norm Robinson and Martha Hicks Robinson, visited Wiese during his treatments. Gallagher sent Wiese his No. 39 Mountaineers jersey, and the community rallied around a college kid who had spent mere weeks here, following his story through social media.
“A lot of people were commenting, sending cards,” Gallagher said. “We sent him his uniform, and he thought that was the coolest thing. His family opened up the package, and there wasn’t a dry eye in the place. Pat put it together, that was the last hit that he’ll ever get. He wanted to be a baseball player, and his last career hit was in Vermont. We did the same for Cody Brown (another former Mountaineer who is battling non-Hodgkins lymphoma). We sent him his jersey. His mom was blown away by it.”
Wiese and Brown stayed in touch through their respective treatment journeys, both able to speak the same medical language.
“I feel bad we both had to go through it, but we each had someone to lean on,” Wiese said.
He said Brown recently completed his treatment and is working on a return to the field.
Tonight Wiese will also be reunited with his former teammate and roommate at the Robinsons’, Chandler Brock, who is the lone returnee on the 2014 Mountaineers roster, along with head coach Joe Brown.
“He’s also been in touch with me through the whole process,” Wiese said. “It’s going to be really good to see both those guys that I came to know pretty closely over the summer.”
Wiese fondly reflected upon the Robinsons’ hospitality in Montpelier — the mini fridge of Gatorade and water in the room he shared with Brock, the off-day trips to Burlington to see Lake Monsters games. The Robinsons also treasured those summer weeks.
“Shark Week, they bonded over that,” Hicks Robinson said.
Wiese will join the team after the game at Montpelier High School for Relay for Life, one of the year’s biggest fundraisers for cancer research.
“We’re doing Relay for Life as a whole team,” Gallagher said. “It will be a nice show of support.”
Wiese was able to keep up with his schoolwork and graduated on time with his class from Le Moyne College two weeks after completing his treatment. He earned a degree in communications with a minor in business. He’s working on regaining strength in his leg and learning to love athletic endeavors that do not impact his knee, which is difficult for a kid who grew up loving baseball, basketball and soccer.
“I can do stuff that involves rotation, so I can ride a bike, and I can play golf,” he said.
He hopes to stay involved in the game he fell in love with as a youngster through coaching.
“I would like to teach the game to young people who have a passion for it like I do,” he said.
He has put that same passion into the Patrick Wiese Foundation, which is devoted to “Healthy Minds, Healthy Body, Healthy Souls.” The foundation has sponsored a 5K fun run; his young cousin started Pennies for Pat, and a golf tournament is in the works for next year. The 50-50 proceeds from tonight will go to the foundation.
“It’s been pretty cool to realize all the good this world has to offer,” Wiese said. “When I was diagnosed, it was the worst news I’ve ever received, but within the next week I was getting phone calls and texts from people in Vermont. It blew me back and made me realize how great the people I came in contact with before.”
In a syracuse.com column from Nov. 28, writer Sean Kirst outlines a lot of those people, including Katie Quirk, a friend of the son of a radiologist friend of Wiese’s father. Quirk works for the Boston Red Sox and arranged for Wiese and his parents to attend batting practice before Game 2 of the 2013 World Series against the St. Louis Cardinals.
Although a New York Yankees fan, Wiese struck up a conversation with Dave Mellor, the Red Sox head groundskeeper. Mellor listened to his story and allowed him to spray paint home plate and the pitching rubber before the first pitch.
It was the first time Wiese had been back in a batter’s box since July 20, on the biggest stage of the game.
Since his diagnosis, he has focused on the things that he can do with his reconstructed knee rather than the things he can’t, which formed the motto for his foundation.
“I had a lot of questions about what I’d be able to do after everything was over,” he said. “I asked, ‘Can I play baseball again?’ They said no. ‘Will I be able to run again?’ They said no. ‘Will I be able to smile ever again?’ And they said yes. That’s all I needed to know.”
For more information on Wiese’s foundation, visit www.patrickwiesefoundation.org.
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