Mo Gaba, the young Orioles and Ravens superfan who was popular with both teams’ players and fanbases, died Tuesday. He was 14.
“I lost my best friend today,” his mother, Sonsy Gaba, posted on Facebook. “[Your] legacy will live on love bug.”
The Ravens and Orioles both offered their condolences on social media, sharing memories of the time Mo Gaba spent with the teams over the years, his infectious laugh reverberating throughout his interactions with players and coaches.
The Ravens highlighted the time Gaba helped draw up a touchdown during practice and when he became the first person to announce an NFL draft pick in Braille.
“Forever a Raven,” the Ravens wrote. “We love you, Mo.”
The Orioles displayed the relationships Gaba had with outfielders Trey Mancini and Adam Jones, with a sharp excitement in his voice whenever he heard either of theirs.
“Thank you, Mo, for sharing your joy and contagious laughter with the team and all the countless memories we will never forget,” the Orioles tweeted.
Gaba, a Glen Burnie resident, spent most of his life battling cancer, first being diagnosed at 9 months old and subsequently losing his vision. But it never kept him from loving his local teams.
Earlier Tuesday, Gaba was elected into the Orioles’ Hall of Fame as the second recipient of The Wild Bill Hagy Award, given to “fans who have inspired others with their devotion to the team, and demonstrated an exceptional commitment in support of the Orioles.” Gaba’s official Orioles Hall of Fame induction will be at a later date.
“Mo’s positive energy has been constant throughout every battle and continues to bring the entire city of Baltimore together in the face of ongoing crisis,” the Orioles said in a statement announcing his election. “His unwavering positivity and kindness are qualities every Baltimorean aspires to emulate. Mo Gaba has impacted more people in his 14 years than most people do in an entire lifetime, and the Orioles are honored to forever celebrate him as a member of the Orioles Hall of Fame.”
In June, Gaba’s cancer reemerged, his fifth time fighting the illness. Despite the diagnosis, he remained upbeat, predicting 45 wins for the Orioles before Opening Day of the 60-game season.
“I hope so,” he said when asked if the Orioles would win the World Series.
The Orioles honored Gaba as the “10th man” for their home opener Wednesday, playing a video message from him during opening ceremonies.
“I am so excited we’re back to baseball,” Gaba said in the video. “I know it’s going to be hard to play without us fans in the ballpark right now, but I speak for all of Birdland when I say that we’re supporting you from near and far. From Delmarva to Frederick, from Sarasota to York, to right here in Glen Burnie and everywhere in between. We wish we could be there with you, but we are cheering as loud as we can possibly be.
“Let’s go, O’s.”
Sonsy Gaba recently posted on Facebook asking for prayers, saying Gaba was no longer on active treatment and his tumors were progressing.
“Of course Mo being Mo, keeps telling me to calm down and not to worry about him,” she wrote. “Why are children so damn resilient?”
Gaba bonded with several members of both the Orioles and the Ravens, with Mancini taking over for Jones as the host of the Purple Tailgate, an annual Ravens pregame event to benefit Gaba.
“Rest In Peace, my friend,” Mancini tweeted. “Your kindness, bravery, and positivity has left a lasting impact on all of us who were lucky enough to have met you. You have truly made this world a better place. We love you, Mo.”
“Mo GABA you have brought so much joy to so many people,” Jones, the longtime Orioles center fielder, tweeted Tuesday. “You [sic] legacy will live on as a positive young man who never made an excuse and wanted your team to play hard. You’re such an inspiration. Rest easy big fella. You will be missed! #MoStrong”
Mancini, who was diagnosed with stage 3 colon cancer in March, was among the attendees at Gaba’s graduation from Lindale Middle School in June. Gaba first gained notoriety by calling into local sports radio stations — without his mother’s knowledge — and threw out the ceremonial first pitch at an Orioles game in 2017.
On Wednesday, Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson opened his first news conference of training camp with a tribute to Gaba.
“My heart is with Mo’s parents, friends and family, because he was a great kid,” Jackson said. “He really wasn’t able to express his ability to show the world what he was made of, and I just want to say my heart goes to him. He was a great soul.”
Jackson said he and his teammates fed off Gaba’s personality and courage.
“Every time he would be out there at the practice facility, you can just feel it,” he said. “Whenever you go by him, you just shake his hand; you hear him talking and stuff. I wish he was able to express things more, [and] was able to see all the stuff that was going on [and] all the love he got around him. I’m just sad. His life got cut short.”
Earlier this month, Gaba hosted “The Big Mo Show” with 105.7 The Fan’s Jeremy Conn, fulfilling a lifelong dream of hosting his own sports talk radio show. Several current and former Baltimore sports figures called in.
On April 27, 2019, Gaba announced the Ravens’ selection of the 123rd overall pick, becoming the first person to announce a draft choice via Braille. Baltimore used the fourth-round pick on Oklahoma lineman Ben Powers, who also attended Gaba’s graduation.
The Ravens announced Wednesday that the Braille card Gaba read off is being displayed at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. Gaba learned of the honor before his death.
“The world has lost a beautiful spirit and a shining light,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said in a statement. “With his infectious laugh, amazing love of life and love of Baltimore sports, Mo captured the hearts of not only our organization, but the entire state of Maryland.
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“We send heartfelt condolences to his mother, Sonsy, who will always be part of our family.”
Gaba’s impact went beyond sports and beyond Baltimore. Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, a cancer survivor, tweeted in remembrance Tuesday night.
“Absolutely heartbroken by the passing of Mo Gaba, a bright light who brought joy to all who knew him and hope to everyone who heard his story,” Hogan tweeted. “Our prayers go out to his family and loved ones.”
Although the Orioles have changed vastly in recent years, with Jones among the longtime faces of the club no longer with the organization, Gaba stayed up to date on the former members of his favorite baseball team. During a road trip to Camden Yards last season, Yankees reliever and longtime Orioles pitcher Zack Britton was able to catch up with Gaba.
“He’s a great kid,” Britton said then. “I don’t think I would be as positive and upbeat as he is considering his circumstances, and just helps us put things in perspective when we see him and how positive he is and supporting us. We just try to tell him as much as he’s yelling at the TV and cheering for us, we’re doing the same for him.”
Orioles manager Brandon Hyde wore a “Mo Strong” shirt during his pregame news conference Wednesday ahead of the team’s home opener.
“I’ve only been here a year, but I understand how close some of our players were to him, how much he meant to this organization,” Hyde said. “I know the relationship he had with Trey as well as others. It’s just a really tough day for everybody here. We felt like he was a part of the team.”