Tacoma Little Leaguer overcomes struggles, ushers in Mariners season

Jake Catterall was born with a love for baseball. The distinctive voice of the late Seattle Mariners announcer Dave Niehaus crooned him to sleep as a baby, Jake’s mother says.

“There’s a lot of struggles,” Stacy Catterall said. “Baseball’s a time of year where we get to celebrate Jake’s successes.”

And what a celebration it was Monday when the 12-year-old got to skip school for Mariners opening day.

Jake had a special reason for missing class at Mason Middle School in Tacoma.

He ushered in the 2015 baseball season, in front of a sellout crowd at Safeco Field. He ran the bases to the soundtrack of 45,909 screaming fans.

“I’m super lucky that people picked me like this,” Jake told The News Tribune before the game.

The regional affiliate of Make-A-Wish Foundation chose Jake for the annual tradition because of his daily struggles and his lifelong love of baseball.

Despite a stroke in infancy that left him unable to use his right hand, Jake pitches for his Little League team in Tacoma.

He has intractable epilepsy and cerebral palsy and spends a lot of time at Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital and Swedish Medical Center. He has a nerve stimulator in his chest and takes as many as 10 medications at a time to control his seizures.

When he was 10, he had major surgery to try and remove the portions of his brain that cause those seizures. The procedure was unsuccessful, his mother said.

But Monday wasn’t about focusing on Jake’s medical conditions. It was all about baseball, which Stacy Catterall said helps her son live a more normal life.

“This is the perfect honor,” she said.

The game was only the beginning of Jake’s Make-A-Wish festivities. In June, his family will travel to the Bahamas.

His twin brother, Brydon, nominated him for the program.

“He’s been through a lot,” Brydon said. “He deserves something awesome.”

“Awesome” appeared to be an understatement Monday.

A jittery Jake paced the room while he prepared for his sprint into the spotlight.

“There’s so much pressure on me!” he said. But the nerves eventually faded.

“It’s easy,” he said with a smile.

As Jake waited for the ceremony to begin, an unexpected guest showed up. Former Seahawks quarterback Jim Zorn shook hands and took pictures with the family. Zorn’s picture hangs in Jake’s room next to an autographed bat from former Mariners catcher Dan Wilson.

“He’s absolutely an unapologetic Seattle sports fan,” Stacy Catterall said of her son, who’s normally shy but didn’t show it much Monday.

Then the star-struck Jake led his family through the tunnel to the field along the third baseline. He goofed around with the Mariner Moose and met with Mariners executives, including General Manager Jack Zduriencik.

“This is exceeding our expectations,” dad Christopher Catterall said.

Then it was time for baseball season to begin.

Jake rounded the bases with a huge smile. Afterward, he couldn’t pinpoint his favorite part of the day.

Meeting Los Angeles Angels center fielder Mike Trout may have been a contender, his mom said. The two took pictures just before game time.

But that was enough goofing around for Jake. He ran as fast as he could to the nearest TV so he didn’t miss a wink of the game.

“He’s constantly reading about baseball,” his dad said.

Stacy Catterall said good days, especially Monday, outweigh the bad for her son.

“He’s shown himself to be a pretty resilient kid,” she said. “My hope is that Jake will continue to be part of a team.”