OAKLAND — It took a pair of tosses from Jurickson Profar, but eight-year old August Wold sent a line drive just to the left of the second base bag to kick off Saturday’s Oakland Athletics game against the Texas Rangers.
Diagnosed with Hirschsprung’s Disease at a six and a half years ago, Wold has undergone more surgeries than his father George can count, but it’s never kept him away from baseball. On Saturday, he got to become a member of the A’s as part of his Make-A-Wish evening at the ballpark.
After watching batting practice and getting some hitting tips from Matt Olson and Matt Chapman, after playing catch with Ramon Laureano and after meeting Khris Davis, Wold signed a one-day contract in a press conference with general manager David Forst. He didn’t disappoint in his first plate appearance.
“These guys have been great,” said George. “This is phenomenal. He’s awestruck. We’re going to hear about that the rest of our lives now. They were all so good with him.”
Hirschsprung’s, usually diagnosed at or near birth, is an absence of ganglion cells in the colon, which causes the muscles in the bowels to lose their ability to move stool through the intestine. Wold’s disease wasn’t caught until he was a year and a half old. He underwent surgery to take out half of his colon, and until June surgery at UC Davis, he had to use a colostomy bag. That never prevented him from playing Little League.
Over the last two years, Wold, who lives in Anderson, Calif., near Redding, has developed into a pretty good little player, and though he’s not quite as big as the other boys due to nutrient absorbtion issues, he’s quick. His Redding Junior Minor team went undefeated, and he played both shortstop and catcher, wearing special wraps around his midsection. The only advice his doctors had: Don’t slide headfirst.
Wold and his 10-year old brother Lars pitch and catch with one another in the front yard daily, wearing out the grass. When Wold was told he’d get to throw in the bullpen at the Coliseum, he asked if Lars could catch him.
“Maybe he does listen about being good to his brothers and sisters,” George said, laughing.
Wold, the fourth of seven siblings, is normally a chatterbox, George said, but as he watched A’s closer Liam Hendriks pull bats out of the bat rack in the dugout and wrap them in A’s-branded grip tape (“This is what the big boys use,” Hendriks said), Wold looked on, silent. As he shook Mark Canha’s hand and as he and Matt Chapman compared haircuts, he barely said a word. He stood and nodded Then, as he watched a Franklin Barreto batting practice home run soar onto the steps in left field, he said, “That’s a big one.”
“He was overwhelmed,” said George. “To see him speechless was just overwhelming. He normally has a smart crack for everything, and he was just staring around like, ‘Holy smokes.’ It was so cool to see.”
Wold — enamored with the A’s Gold Glove corner infielders — mimicked both Chapman’s right-handed swing and Olson’s left-handed stroke next to the batting cage, in front of their respective owners. Chapman knelt down and asked him how he’d like his bat after batting practice. A silent Wold almost didn’t comprehend the offer. He was a bit more talkative when Laureano began throwing him some soft toss up the third base line.
Afterwards, clad in his own personalized kelly greenjersey, he got the black Chapman bat, Olson’s batting gloves and a Nintendo Switch from Laureano.
Davis — a big gamer himself in the offseason, who kneeled down to chat at length with Wold — said he hoped to stay in touch with his new teammate-for-a-day, just as he did with fellow Make-A-Wish kid Anthony Slocumb. Davis memorably asked Slocumb to sign his jersey before hitting a home run last season, and has since seen him several times, hitting another home run for him this season.
Wold stood and spoke with fellow shortstop Marcus Semien for quite some time before Semien jumped into the cage. Later, during a press conference packed with family and local media in which he signed his contract, Forst told Wold that, instead of throwing the first pitch, he’d be getting the first hit, no matter how many swings it took. Wold pointed at the lineup on a flatscreen on the wall of the press conference room.
“But Semien’s starting,” Wold said.
“Marcus is going to lead off, but you’re going to hit even before him,” Forst said. Wold’s eyes widened.
What was that hit going to be? “Maybe a home run,” Wold said, before predicting that one of his favorite players — Chapman — would also go yard.
“You heard it here first,” Forst said.