July 28, 2017
At 12 Years Old, Caleb Stewart Is One of Catawba College's Most Valuable Players
Caleb was drafted onto the Catawba Indians baseball team through Team IMPACT, a project that matches courageous children who have diseases like cystic fibrosis (CF) with college athletic teams.
There is one player on the Catawba College baseball team who is younger and smaller than the other players on the field. He wears a uniform, chats with his teammates in the locker room, shags fly balls, takes batting practice rounds, and sits in the dugout during games.
Caleb Stewart is 12 years old, and was drafted onto the Catawba Indians baseball team through Team IMPACT. The Team IMPACT CF Project, sponsored by Vertex, matches courageous children with diseases like cystic fibrosis (CF) with college athletic teams. Each child is "signed" onto a team becoming an official member from their draft day through to graduation.
In his three years with the Indians, Caleb has become one of its most valuable members – so valuable, in fact, that when the team won its conference championship in 2015, he was sent to accept the award.
“Caleb comes to games and practices whenever he can,” said Catawba baseball head coach Jim Gantt, who has coached the Indians for more than 20 years. “We consider him a member of the team.”
Caleb, who is one of three children, was diagnosed with CF when he was 4 months old. He’s now in sixth grade, and loves baseball. The family learned of Team IMPACT through a social worker, who connected them with the Catawba team. Caleb immediately clicked with the players, who welcomed him like a little brother.
Three years later, Caleb and his family can’t image life without the team that has adopted him.
“Team IMPACT is not just about baseball games and practice,” said his mother, Shea Stewart. “It’s about becoming friends.”
The Stewarts have developed close relationships with many of the players on the team, who often come to Caleb’s little league games. During Caleb’s hospitalizations, team members visit frequently, entertaining him with movies and Xbox games, while Coach Gantt has become a mentor to Caleb and a friend to the family.
“Coach Gantt is an amazing person,” Shea says. “He is just all in for whatever needs to be done. He is very well respected and well known in the baseball community and is so kind, humble, caring, and giving. For him to put so much time and thought and effort into Caleb is just overwhelming to us.”
In addition to the time he spends with the Indians, Caleb plays shortstop on two different teams – his middle school team and a travel team.
“I love just going down and practicing with them, and going to the away games and traveling,” Caleb said. “I get to hang out with the team and they help me with my baseball skills. They’ve helped make me a better baseball player.”
Caleb’s presence has also transformed the players on the team, says Coach Gantt.
“We get so caught up in our everyday lives that I think we forget playing college baseball is a privilege,” he said. “We’ve watched Caleb go through difficult periods, and there have been times when he has had to spend time in the hospital. He helps us understand that you have to make the most of every day.”
TJ Wharton was a junior when Caleb arrived, and he is now the team’s assistant coach. He says Caleb’s enthusiasm for the sport inspires the team.
“He is so excited to come out to the field every day, and so happy just to be around us,” TJ said. “He gives us perspective on how lucky we are to be on the field every day. He’s really helped team morale.”
“He’s more of an inspiration for us than we are for him,” says Coach Gantt. “That’s not the way it was intended, but that’s the way it turned out.”
Caleb’s mother has a different perspective.
“The team is always rallying behind him, and they help him to enjoy life and not always be concerned about doctors, tests, and taking medicines,” Shea said. “I would dare to say the team has impacted Caleb more than he has impacted them.”
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