Down Syndrome Awareness: Natalie’s First Pitch

Natalie, 4, and her dad, The Stream's Tom Sileo, threw out the first pitch at an MLB Spring Training game.

The Stream's Tom Sileo holds up his daughter Natalie, 4, after they threw out the first pitch at the Washington Nationals-Miami Marlins game at CACTI Park of the Palm Beaches in West Palm Beach, Florida, on March 9, 2024.

By Tom Sileo Published on March 12, 2024

My youngest daughter, Natalie, has Down syndrome. Over the past four years, she has excelled in her weekly learning and therapy sessions, courageously conquered several hospital visits, and even appeared on a giant screen in Times Square.

This past Saturday evening, Natalie added another achievement to a growing list: joining her dad to throw out the first pitch at an MLB Spring Training game. With her mom and big sister cheering us on, a smiling Natalie and I took the field, waved to the crowd and (thank you, Lord) threw the ball “right down the middle,” according to the stadium announcer at CACTI Park of the Palm Beaches in West Palm Beach, Florida.

Some might watch that video and say that Natalie’s dad threw the first pitch. They would be wrong. Natalie’s father did nothing to earn that chance. It was Natalie’s strength and God’s grace that put us on that field.

“More baseball?” Natalie adorably asked as we walked off the diamond. If we could have thrown 100 more pitches to home plate, it would have been fine with her.

Natalie’s first name is inspired by her dad’s hometown Washington Nationals. “Nat,” as she is affectionately nicknamed, was born just three months after the Nats won the 2019 World Series against the heavily favored Houston Astros. The Nationals started that season 19-31 before turning things around, making a miracle run through the postseason and becoming the first (and only) team in MLB history to win all four games of a World Series on the road.

Before those 2019 playoffs began, Natalie’s parents were frightened and confused. We were stunned by the prenatal diagnosis of Trisomy 21 (Down syndrome), and struggled to imagine how we could possibly care for a child with special needs.

“God sees something in you,” we were then told. “There’s a reason He has chosen you to raise this precious child.”

Those words were spoken by The Stream Founder and Publisher James Robison during a phone call he and his wife Betty graciously took the time to have with us. As you might have read here shortly after Natalie was born, that call marked a turning point for our family. While the challenge of having a child with Down syndrome seemed daunting, James and Betty’s kind and compassionate words helped us realize that with God’s help, we could do it.

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During Washington’s unlikely march through the 2019 postseason, the eventual champion Nationals had two mottos: “stay in the fight” and “go 1-0 every day.” The former is engraved on a mini baseball bat the team gave to then-baby Nat, while the latter is pinned to a cork board that she passes every day while going to her therapies or outside to play. Those mottos perfectly define not only Natalie’s perseverance, but that of all people with Down syndrome.

As James and Betty also said during our phone calls, children with special needs are gifts from God. Despite our initial fear and trepidation, it is impossible to imagine our lives without Natalie in them. Even during her toughest moments, she always finds a way to smile and make everyone around her happy, too.

Down syndrome: Brenner Cox and Natalie

Washington Nationals right field prospect Brenner Cox gives Natalie a high five following her ceremonial first pitch.

That includes Washington Nationals outfield prospect Brenner Cox, who was so kind to Natalie before, during, and after her ceremonial first pitch. It was after he high-fived her that she said, “More baseball?” Our family is extremely grateful to Cox, the Washington Nationals organization, and the staff of the CACTI Park of the Palm Beaches for giving such an unforgettable opportunity to our family.

Indeed, Natalie, there will be “more baseball.” Someday, hopefully in our nation’s capital, you will take the mound and fire a perfect strike to home plate. Until then, it is your family’s honor and privilege to watch you stay in the fight and go 1-0 every day. We love you!

 

Tom Sileo is a contributing senior editor of The Stream. He is the author of the forthcoming I Have Your Back, the recently released Be Bold and co-author of Three Wise MenBrothers Forever8 Seconds of Courage and Fire in My Eyes. Follow Tom on X @TSileo and The Stream at @Streamdotorg.

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