Josiah Viera, the subject of an E:60 feature, died Monday morning. He was 14 years old.
Born May 25, 2004, Viera weighed 5.5 pounds at birth and gained just two more pounds over the next six months. On his first birthday, doctors diagnosed Viera with Hutchinson-Gilford progeria, a fatal genetic condition characterized by accelerated aging in children. The chance of being born with progeria is about 1 in 4 million, making it among the rarest diseases in the world.
Viera’s life expectancy was projected to be between 8 and 13 years.
His disease could not curtail his love of baseball. Viera in 2010 began playing Little League, and by the end of the season, news of Viera’s role on the team and love of the game spread, leading to nearly 1,000 people showing up to watch him play.
Painful arthritis in his knees and ankles forced Viera to stop playing Little League at age 10. Despite that, he became an integral part of the State College Spikes, a short-season Class A affiliate of the St. Louis Cardinals.
In 2013, the team invited Viera to come to a game, and the Spikes took him into their family.
The next season, with Viera serving as the team’s honorary bench coach, the Spikes won their first New York-Penn League championship.
“I believe to this day that he’s the reason why our team won the league championship,” Jason Dambach, Spikes senior vice president and general manager, told E:60.
In 2015, Viera was awarded the Good Guy Award by the St. Louis chapter of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. The award celebrates sportsmanship and spirit in the game of baseball.
The Spikes won the title again in 2016, and in March 2017 Viera got his championship ring at the Cardinals’ spring training complex in Florida.
Viera’s impact was not limited to baseball. On Monday, Penn State football coach James Franklin tweeted about Viera’s death.
Going to miss my friend. Thankful for the time I was able to spend with him. Our thoughts are with his grandfather, family, friends & our hearts are with Josiah! pic.twitter.com/9RsP8rLAIm
— James Franklin (@coachjfranklin) December 25, 2018
“Josiah Viera taught us to enjoy every minute that we have,” Dambach tweeted Monday. “Being able to be around him every day at the ballpark was an honor and something I will cherish forever. RIP Josiah. Miss you.”