Mo Gaba’s mother chuckles at the thought of how he would react if he could be at Camden Yards on Saturday for his official recognition as an Orioles Hall of Fame inductee.
“He’d be like, ‘Oh, Mom, this is pretty cool. I’m being inducted to the Hall of Fame,’” Sonsy Gaba said Friday from the seventh floor of the B&O Warehouse. “He’d just say it’s pretty cool. That’d be the typical teenager answer.”
Gaba, the 14-year-old Orioles superfan who died in July 2020 the same day he was honored as the recipient of the Wild Bill Hagy Award, will be recognized before Saturday’s game at Oriole Park along with the organization’s 2021 Hall of Fame class of shortstop J.J. Hardy, outfielder Mike Devereaux and longtime broadcaster Joe Angel.
It will mark the second time in as many homestands Sonsy Gaba will come to the ballpark to honor her son. On July 28, the anniversary of Mo’s death, Sosny threw out the ceremonial first pitch, holding back tears after a pregame tribute. Orioles first baseman Trey Mancini, who grew close to Mo even before both battled cancer, was behind the plate. When he homered in the third inning of what became a comeback victory, he found Sonsy in the stands, delivering on her request to hit one for Mo.
“I just felt Mo was there,” Sonsy said. “That was all Mo. Something told me, it was in the back of my mind, I have a feeling that Trey Mancini is gonna be the catcher, and that’s what happened that day, and then Trey, the home run that day, everything just felt like Mo was there shining his light on everybody in the stadium that day, just letting everybody know that he was present for that game.”
She said moments such as that don’t happen as often as she would like. The past year, she said, has been “heartbreaking.”
“I miss him,” Sonsy said. “I feel like it’s just a void that I can never fill, and this year has been just weird because I’m so used to celebrating everything with him, and I don’t have him here to celebrate with me, and although I’m proud of him, I miss him dearly.”
Still, she’s remained in touch with Mancini and former Orioles outfielder Adam Jones, who also bonded deeply with Mo. Although Jones is now playing in Japan, Sonsy said she hears from him regularly.
“Those were his hearts,” Sonsy said. “When Trey got sick, that broke his heart.”
As Mancini endured his own battle, he kept in mind that Mo, even as he spent his life facing cancer and was blinded by the disease, was a constant source of positivity. Asked where that fight and spirit came from, Sonsy said the credit belonged to Mo more than anyone else.
“Everybody says, like, I did that. It’s hard to fathom that — of course I was his mom, but Mo was just a league of his own,” Sonsy said. “I feel like he came here, he did what he needed to do, and then the Lord called him home. Mo did it all by himself. If I was in a similar situation, I don’t think I would be as strong as he was.
“I am so proud of my son for even making this opportunity possible, so I’m happy and so humbled.”
Hardy, Devo: Winning will bring back fans
Hardy’s earliest celebratory memory as an Oriole came in the finale of his first season with Baltimore, when Robert Andino’s season-ending walk-off for a losing Orioles team knocked the Boston Red Sox out of the playoffs.
“It felt like we won the World Series,” Hardy said.
The Orioles were the American League’s winningest team over the next five years, with Hardy as their starting shortstop. He won a Gold Glove award each year from 2012-14, adding Silver Slugger and All-Star starter recognition in 2013.
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Friday, he recalled that transition, in which the Orioles went from 26th of 30 teams in attendance in 2011 to 13th in 2014.
“This city absolutely loved us for all those years that I was here,” said Hardy, who is back in Baltimore for the first time since leaving the Orioles after the 2017 season.
In Devereaux’s case, he arrived in Baltimore coming off a 1988 season that, at the time, was the worst in franchise history. In 1989, the “Why Not?” Orioles unexpectedly went into the season’s final series in reach of a playoff spot. Even when they missed out, the city threw a parade.
When he visits Oriole Park now, he’s disappointed in the sparse crowds. The Orioles have ranked no higher than 25th in attendance over the past four years. (Fans weren’t allowed in any venue in 2020 because of the coronavirus pandemic, which also led to varying restrictions in attendance at ballparks around the country this season.)
“It doesn’t even look the same,” Devereaux said.
But both, as well as manager Brandon Hyde, believe when the Orioles’ rebuild begins to produce results at the major league level, fans will once again flock to Camden Yards.
“I always try to stay positive about everything, and when I think of Baltimore, I think of the fun that I had here and the sellout crowds every day,” Devereaux said. “When I think of Baltimore, that’s all I think about.”