Toby Ahlstrand stepped into the dugout at Cody’s Milward Simpson Field, and his eyes instantly fixated on one thing: the bag of Sour Patch Kids sitting in Coyote Peterson’s lap.
A 6-year-old cancer survivor, Toby approached Peterson — a television star and wildlife educator who’s drawn billions of views on YouTube — and asked him a simple question.
“Are you going to eat all of those?” Toby asked, a smirk running across his face.
Sure enough, Peterson wasn’t. He smiled, reached in the bag and gave Toby a handful of Sour Patch Kids.
This sparked a connection between the two and was the start of an unforgettable day for Toby. The Powell youth worked as a batboy for the first annual Celebrities for a Cause event, which included two softball games, a golf tournament and other festivities.
Not long ago, Toby battled a deadly disease, spending two and a half years fighting leukemia. But he went into remission last summer and a year later, he was participating in a high-profile event, having the time of his life.
During his fight, Toby never had a chance to participate in a “Make-a-Wish” experience. His father, Moose, reached out to Celebrities for a Cause organizer Ryan Brown to see if Toby could participate in the softball games. Brown offered him the chance to be a batboy. It further raised cancer awareness for the event, which donated all proceeds to St Jude Children’s Research Hospital and Big Horn Basin Cancer Treatment Center in Cody.
“I think it’s awesome,” Brown said. “It’s a good experience for those kids and it’s really special for them.”
Prior to the June 19 games, Toby knew very little about baseball, softball or what simply it meant to be a batboy, but it didn’t take long for him to learn the ropes. He worked alongside Triton Fritz — a Hudson, Wyoming, native who has fought cancer for over four years now — and delivered bats to various celebrities.
Toby was even good luck for Peterson early into the competition, it seems.
Peterson asked the 6-year-old to pick between two bats, and Toby chose the one in his left hand. But at the last second, Toby told the YouTuber and former Animal Planet host to use the bat in his right hand. Peterson stepped into the batter’s box and belted the first pitch he saw over the fence for a home run.
“It was hilarious,” Moose Ahlstrand said. “Everyone was like, ‘Toby picked the right bat!’”
Even Peterson, who described himself as “fairly athletic,” said it was all the luck of his batboy.
“I’m gonna give credit to Toby,” Peterson said. “I haven’t played baseball since high school, so I had his luck on my side.”
It wasn’t just Peterson who took a shine to Toby. Other celebrities, such as former NFL tight end Chris Cooley of Powell, hung out with the 6-year-old and praised his efforts in collecting bats. Toby also found time to play with Cooley’s children, Sloane and Bodi.
In addition to his duties as a batboy, Toby had the chance to shag balls in the outfield during batting practice. His high energy and vibrant personality made Toby a star.
“He’s so loud that you heard him from 100 yards away saying ‘I got it, I got it!’” Moose Ahlstrand said.
After working two games and shagging balls during batting practice, Toby admitted he was exhausted. But it was a day he will never forget — he made friends, learned more about baseball and had the chance to get exercise on a warm, summer day.
It was also a day that displayed how much he has overcome. Watching his son run back and forth from the dugout to the batter’s box, Moose couldn’t have been prouder of his son.
“It was fun to see him in his element,” Moose Ahlstrand said. “As much of a bummer as it was for him to have cancer, so many things have come out of our journey that made it manageable. He’s so great with people, people are so great with him.
“He inspires me to be strong because he got so many pokes and so many hard things that he’s the strongest person I know,” Moose said. “Toby’s my hero.”
As Saturday’s festivities wrapped up, Toby said his final goodbyes to the celebrities and to his favorite, Peterson. The two took a picture together, and Peterson gave him an autographed softball to keep.
But while posing for the photo, Ahlstrand noticed something in Peterson’s mouth: chewing gum. Similar to their introduction, the batboy asked for a piece. With Moose’s permission, Peterson loaned Toby some gum and grinned, giving him a hug.
This put a bow on a memorable day for Toby, Peterson and everyone else involved.
“It’s amazing how little things like that can create a bond,” Peterson said. “He put a positive spin on everything and put smiles on everybody’s faces. He’s certainly a kid I’ll never forget.”
Original posted at www.powelltribune.com