Decked out in Utah baseball gear from his Utah hat – that was signed by every member of the team, including coaches and athletic trainers – to his No. 4 jersey that was presented to him by the Utes last fall, batboy Graden Miller was beaming from head to toe before Utah’s final game of the year. He had been living a dream with the team since last October when he accepted the jersey, and he began attending team and batting practices. It has been an unforgettable season full of memories for Miller, who has a passion for sports, but whose body is making it difficult for him to play.
Graden’s parents, Mark and Cristina – who also have a daughter, Amelia – were looking to adopt when they were contacted back in 2007 by a teenage couple in high school that was expecting. The young couple was looking for parents for their soon-to-be-born baby, but they explained to Mark and Cristina that the child would have Becker muscular dystrophy – a disorder that is a slow progression of muscle weakness in the pelvis and legs – because the girl was a carrier.
Mark and Cristina knew of a family down the street from them with four kids that suffered from severe muscular dystrophy. Mark said the family was inspirational and had great kids, and that influenced their decision to adopt their now fourth grader, Graden.
“We just decided that’s what we wanted to do,” Mark said. “We decided if this is our chance to adopt a great kid then we’re going to do it.”
As the pregnancy went along, Mark and Cristina met with the couple they would be adopting from, as well as their families. The girl’s dad who also has Becker muscular dystrophy talked to Mark and Cristina about the inherited disorder.
“He said ‘if you could do one thing just try not to emphasize sports too much because that’s really hard’,” Cristina said.
But when Graden was born, the Miller family quickly realized sports was in his blood.
“Grady was born practically with a ball in his hand,” Cristina said. “Since he was a baby he knew that a ball was a very important thing in his life.”
Whether it was choosing to watch ESPN over cartoons, dressing up as an ESPN reporter for Halloween or watching baseball on television while swinging his plastic bat, Graden’s love for sports was undeniable from a young age. Living with Becker muscular dystrophy though is a challenge when it comes to playing sports because the muscle weakness in the lower part of the body that slowly occurs makes it difficult to move, but the sports enthusiastic boy found that baseball was a game his body would allow him to play.
“It’s the only sport that I can play because it doesn’t have that much running involved,” Graden said.
With baseball being the sport Graden has come to love, when he found out he was going to be a batboy for the Utes, he was speechless according to Cristina. The game he has been playing and watching seemed to become more than just balls, bats and dirt. This was an experience of a lifetime.
As a batboy, Graden was responsible for picking up bats, grabbing foul balls and getting elbow and kneepads for the athletes. By the end of the games, Cristina said his legs would be cramping and exhausted, but for the boy who isn’t letting this obstacle get the best of him, he was quick to add that only happened “some of the time.”
“There were some games where at the end of the game he was still juiced and he wanted to run from the bottom of the stadium,” Mark said. “He wanted to run up the steps and just show me that he could get up there. It’s pretty awesome.”
The Utes took Graden in as one of their own this season. From fist bumps from the athletes and head coach Bill Kinneberg in the dugout to learning tips on how to get a jump on stealing, this team has put a smile on Graden’s face.
Not to mention, Graden got to see his favorite and now former Ute, Dallas Carroll – who played the same position as him, third base – in action. Graden was a member of the Alta Canyon All-Star Team last season, and he now plays for the Royals where he gets to put what he’s seen from the Utes to the test.
“I think Graden bonded right away with our guys,” Kinneberg said. “He’s a really personable, happy, dedicated little boy that enjoyed being around us and guys enjoyed being around him, and he did a great job batboying so it was a win for both of us.”
The thrill this opportunity has brought Graden is something that has been special for his family to watch, but especially for his mom. Cristina explained that there are times when he feels down and different and that is heartbreaking, but seeing how the Utes have acted around Graden has been heartwarming.
“I see these big athletes treating him so nicely,” Cristina said. “They gave him fist bumps and they patted his helmet and they treated him like one of the guys. It’s just an amazing experience to [have] watched him out there interacting with these college players. I just appreciate everything they’ve done so much.”
Looking back on the season, Graden said he is going to miss high fives at home plate after a home run, being on the field and hanging with the guys, but above all, he’s simply going to miss being a Utah baseball batboy.
Doctors aren’t sure how Graden’s Becker muscular dystrophy is going to progress other then they know Graden will lose more mobility in his legs. So for now, Graden will continue to do all that he can while he is still able to despite the curveball life has thrown his way.