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Young fan gets royal HOPE Week treatment

Young fan gets royal HOPE Week treatment

Young fan gets royal HOPE Week treatment play video for Young fan gets royal HOPE Week treatment
NEW YORK -- On Wednesday, just two months after he learned what a baseball is, Andy Fass patrolled the home dugout at Yankee Stadium, delivered the team's lineup card to home plate and shouted "play ball" to start the game.

Fass suffers from a condition called oculocutaneous albinism, which has left him legally blind -- he can see general objects, but not fine details -- and without skin pigmentation, but his spirit is the same as that of any 5-year-old. On Wednesday, he burst through the doors of his personal party suite above right field full of energy, dishing out hugs and high fives to family, friends, media members and the three Yankees waiting to surprise him.

When Jason Zillo, the Yankees' director of media relations, tried to introduce himself as the man who once provided Fass with ice cream, the youngster quickly recoiled.

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"Well, where's the ice cream now?" Fass replied.

That was just minutes before Fass held the first news conference of his life, seizing control of the room by snatching microphones out of reporters' hands, trading one for the next whenever he felt inclined.

Fass is a normal, outgoing boy, and that's just how his parents, Marc and Jill, like it.

"It's like a miracle," Fass said. "It's like, wow, whoa, it's what my dream was."

The only piece of information the Fasses received about Wednesday was where to park their car. They had no idea their son would be standing on the field minutes before the game as the organization's honorary guest on the third day of HOPE (Helping Others Persevere and Excel) Week, the Yankees' five-day community outreach initiative.

"Seeing a special child like Andy, and seeing the difference that baseball and the Yankees make for them just brings tears to your eyes," Jenny Steinbrenner said. "The joy in little Andy's eyes when he saw CC [Sabathia] and all those players, there's no way you can duplicate those moments for the players as well as the families. It's kind of paying it forward, and we get blessed because we're a part of these amazing stories."

Fass touched a baseball for the first time in April, when Wednesday's starter, Andy Pettitte, randomly handed him a ball at a Trenton Thunder game while making his first rehab start on his way back to the Majors. Fass' initial reaction was to ask his father what the item was and why a strange man had handed it to him.

"I took it out of his hand and had Jill put it in a backpack before Andy had a chance to throw it back, because in my mind, Andy is thinking two things," Marc Fass said. "One, you don't take things from strangers, and two, that ball is his -- I need to give it back to him."

Once the nature of the ball was explained to Fass, it became the subject of his fascination, inspiring him to sign up for indoor tee ball and extol Pettitte as his hero. Fass and his family now have aspirations that one day he'll play fast-pitch baseball with the help of an orange ball to assist his vision.

After family and friends surprised Fass in the suite on Wednesday, he was presented with a bag of baseball gear from Sabathia, Phil Hughes and Clay Rapada, but Pettitte was the only player Fass named when prompted to reveal his favorite Yankee.

"He's the best player in the world," Fass said.

Pettitte rewarded Fass with a strong start on Wednesday but was injured in the fifth inning, when a batted ball caromed off his left leg, breaking his ankle.

Because of the injury, Pettitte could not make it to the finale of Fass' day with the Yankees. Derek Jeter, Chris Stewart, Sabathia, Rapada, Hughes and hitting coach Kevin Long traveled with Fass to the MLB Fan Cave in Manhattan for a postgame party and private tee-ball session with other children who suffer from albinism. At the event, the Yankees presented the National Organization for Albinism and Hypopigmentation with a check for $10,000.

"He's got a lot of energy, man," Jeter said. "It's been a lot of fun for us. This is a fun week for the whole organization -- players, coaches and ownership. We started this about four years ago, and we all enjoy it. It's something we look forward to."

When Marc and Jill Fass first looked at their son, they were hoping for any kind of eye contact in return. Now Andy not only has a desire to do active and adventurous activities such as baseball, he's making friends in high places. Fass and Sabathia bonded on the ride to the Fan Cave, trading jokes and sharing their favorite movies.

"We've known how special Andy is for a few years now," Marc Fass said. "Now it's time for everyone else to get a look. While Andy doesn't get overwhelmed by this now, I'm sure in a few years, when he looks back at pictures, he will."

Ethan Asofsky is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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