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An Inspiration to Many, Josiah Viera Remembered for 'Joyous Spirit'

by on December 25, 2018 12:45 PM

State College Spikes bench coach Josiah Viera, who inspired professional baseball players, fans and many more around the country as he battled a rare childhood genetic condition, died on Monday at the age of 14.

"To all our friends and fans... Josiah left to play baseball with Jesus today," his family wrote on Twitter. "Our hearts are broken. I know I will see him again soon. I'm gonna miss my baseball talks in the morning. Thanks for your thoughts and prayers."

At the age of 1, Viera was diagnosed with Hutchinson-Gilford progeria syndrome, a terminal disorder that causes a child to age rapidly. Fewer than 20 people in the United States are diagnosed with the condition, which has an average life expectancy of 8 to 13.

Viera had a deep love for baseball and in 2010 began playing Little League. His condition prevented him from continuing to play after a few years, but in 2013 he was introduced to the Spikes, the St. Louis Cardinals' short-season A affiliate, through the Children's Miracle Network.

That turned into a role as honorary bench coach and he was a regular presence with the team — with his own uniform and locker — for years to come.

In a statement on Monday, the Spikes said Viera's "joyous spirit and enthusiasm" inspired players, coaches, staff and fans, and credited him with helping State College to three Pinckney Division titles and New York-Penn League championships in 2014 and 2016. 

“Josiah’s impact was felt not only here in Central Pennsylvania, but throughout the baseball world, and the entire Spikes organization joins in mourning his loss,” Spikes General Manager Scott Walker said. “Our thoughts and prayers are with Josiah’s mother, Jennifer, his sister, Daisha, his grandfather, Dave Bohner, and with his entire family.”

Tributes from current and former Spikes players and staff poured in on social media following news of Viera's passing.

"Beyond the joy that he brought anyone who had the pleasure of being able to call him a friend, Josiah Viera taught us to enjoy every minute that we have," former Spikes President Jason Dambach tweeted. "Being able to be around him every day at the ballpark was an honor and something I will cherish forever."

"You gave me perspective I wouldn’t of found otherwise," former Spikes manager Oliver Marmol wrote. "You impacted more lives than you could ever imagine. Careful giving God suggestions on his line up...Love you bud!"

 

Viera's impact went well beyond Medlar Field. He was the subject of an ESPN E:60 feature and in 2015 he received the Harry Mitauer Good Guy Award from the St. Louis Baseball Writers Association of America.

He also became a regular presence for and friend to Penn State sports teams. Nittany Lion football coach James Franklin and basketball coach Patrick Chambers both tweeted remembrances and photos on Monday.

 

 

Former Cardinals prospect Jake Gronsky met Viera when he came to State College on a rehab assignment. Gronsky's playing days are over, but he said earlier this year that meeting Viera changed his life forever. Gronsky and Dave Bohner, Viera's grandfather, co-authored  “A Short Season: Faith, Family, and a Boy’s Love for Baseball,” published in 2018.

“Everything I went through — good, bad, otherwise — it was all worth it,” Gronsky said. “Meeting Josiah and telling his story was way better than ever making the big leagues.”



Geoff Rushton is managing editor for StateCollege.com. Contact him at [email protected] or find him on Twitter at @geoffrushton.
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