On his way to the hospital Friday to receive a heart transplant, 15-year-old Dalton Igoe called his buddy, Curve catcher Tony Sanchez, to tell him the wonderful news.
"I love the kid like a little brother," said Sanchez, who has a special place in his heart for the Altoona youth.
The two became friends last year when Sanchez went bowling in Altoona and encountered Dalton, his brother, Dylan, and their grandmother. Sanchez and Dalton hit it off and stayed in touch throughout last season, and Dalton even called and texted his friend and favorite player a few times during the offseason.
Mirror photo by Patrick Waksmunski
Curve catcher Tony Sanchez buttons his shirt during Friday’s game against Erie.
"That's such a great kid," Sanchez said, "and the way he lives his life, he lives it to the fullest and he doesn't feel bad for himself."
Dalton, who was born with a congenital heart defect, woke up Friday morning looking forward to working later in the evening at Peoples Natural Gas Field. He was scheduled to take part in a job shadowing program with the security officials during the Curve's game against Erie.
Instead, the young man got the call that he was in line for a heart transplant, so he headed off to Children's Hospital in Pittsburgh with his family. He also was excited to tell the news to Sanchez and his friends with the Curve franchise, so he called Elsie Gibney, the team's director of community relations.
Gibney helped set up a Make-A-Wish Foundation charity bowling event in Dalton's honor in 2005, and he has been close to her and other members of the franchise ever since.
The Curve have held a charity bowling event for Make-A-Wish each year since 2005, and Dalton has always participated. - usually winning the kids' competition. He was on hand for the latest one two weeks ago and bowled with his buddy, Sanchez.
"A little bit after 1 o'clock [Friday], Dalton called me and said, 'Elsie, I got a heart!' and he was on his way to Pittsburgh," Gibney said as she tried to fight back tears of joy.
"So of course we started crying, and I told him I loved him. And he said, 'Would you please be sure to tell Tony because I can't get ahold of him?'"
There's no cell service in the Curve clubhouse, so Sanchez initially did not know Dalton had called and left him a voicemail. Sanchez found out the news about the transplant from Gibney, who called the clubhouse phone.
"She goes, 'Hey, did you talk to Dalton?'" Sanchez said. "And I was like, 'No, I haven't.' And she goes, 'He got his heart! He's on his way to Pittsburgh!' And my eyes just lit up. I was really happy."
That's when Sanchez walked out of the clubhouse and was able to hear Dalton's words himself on the voicemail.
"He was like, 'Hey, Tony, guess what! I'm on my way to the hospital!' And obviously he's choking up and he's got tears of joy, and you could tell how happy he was," Sanchez said.
"It was an unbelievable experience for me to just sit there and listen to it. You could just feel the excitement in his voice."
The Curve catcher, who celebrates his birthday Sunday, immediately sent Dalton a text.
"I said, 'Hey, thank you for telling me, man. I'm so happy for you. This is the best birthday present ever. And God bless you and your family, and you keep me updated. Anything you need, just let me know.'"
Sanchez passed along the news to the other members of the Curve, who all know Dalton's story.
"They were all really happy," he said. "They all know Dalton and they know his brother, and Dalton knows them, and he loves them just as much as he loves me."
Gibney said the members of the Curve front office were "ecstatic" to hear about Dalton's transplant, which was scheduled for 2:30 a.m. Saturday, because they all know how much he's been through over the years.
"He's electric; he's just got that magnet of a personality that people are drawn to," Gibney said.
Later Friday, when she was writing the names of the starting lineups on the wall at PNG Field, Gibney was overcome with emotion.
"I was trying to think of something that was cooler than what I just experienced," Gibney said. "And I don't think in 13 seasons that I'm going to have a cooler gig than that - to have somebody, anybody, let alone a kid, say, 'Hey, I just got a new heart.'"
Cory Giger is the host of "Sports Central" from 4 to 6 p.m. daily on ESPN Radio 1430 WVAM. Reach him at 949-7031 or @CoryGiger on Twitter.