WICHITA (KSNT) – On Tuesday morning, 8-year-old Owen Hoag’s world changed forever. He found out his dad, Jeff, passed away after a nearly two-year battle with cancer. It was one of the toughest days of that 8-year-old’s life, but he stared adversity in the eyes.
“Owen gave me a call about 9 o’clock in the morning saying, ‘Hey, coach, I still want to play today,'” said his baseball coach Clint Bleier.
Jeff was the head coach for his son’s 316 Elite Eight and Under baseball team.
“He loved the boys more than any coach I’ve seen, just the way he treated them all with respect, treated them like they were little men, that’s what he wanted them to be,” Bleier said.
Owen chose to step up to the plate Tuesday for his dad.
“It shows his love for the game, but really, I think it shows his love for his dad,” said Bleier, one of the coaches for Hoag’s team.
More than 500 people filled the ballpark at Westurban Baseball to see the team play.
“316 elite, Hoag Strong,” yelled the team before the game.
Owen threw a shut-out from the mound and even hitting an in-the-park home run.
“I was like, oh, he’s gonna get a home run, he’s gonna get a home run,” said Louie Meier, one of his teammates.
The crowd erupted into cheers as he slid into home. His teammates running to the plate to lift him up both in celebration and comfort.
“To make him feel happy because I mean he’s already had a rough day. So that’s like the best we can do for him,” explained Meier.
“It was the most amazing experience I’ve had on a baseball field, and I’ve been playing since I was his age,” coach Courtney Landon said as he pointed to his 8-year-old son.
The celebration spilled out beyond the dugout.
“You look over and the other coaches are clapping. The other stands are standing up clapping,” said Eric Tatum, Jeff Hoag’s brother-in-law. “It just meant a lot to everybody, his support and love, it was just overwhelming.”
The game was shining light after many dark days.
“For the last year and a half, two years the kid just needed a win,” Tatum said choked up. “Just good to see him smile and be normal. Be a normal kid.”
Hoag’s wife has given the team one of his old hats that proudly says ‘Coach Jeff.’ The coach says they will be making sure it has a special seat in the dugout each game.