GLEN BURNIE, Md. — Baltimore’s sports teams showed their support by attending a 14-year-old superfan’s eighth-grade graduation parade on Tuesday morning after getting word that his cancer has spread.
Mo Gaba, who is battling cancer for the fourth time, gained renown in 2019 by becoming the first person to announce an NFL draft pick by using a braille card.
As hundreds of people drove past Gaba’s garden apartment honking their horns and yelling “Mo,” Orioles outfielder Trey Mancini and catcher Austin Wynns stopped by to congratulate Gaba and the Ravens marching band played the “Pomp and Circumstance” graduation song. Ravens offensive lineman Bradley Bozeman presented a game ball to Gaba, who then awarded it to his mother.
“Mo is without a doubt the most fearless and special person I have ever met in my life,” said Mancini, who is undergoing chemotherapy treatment after having a cancerous tumor removed from his colon in March. “He brightens the day of every person he comes in contact with. No matter what the situation, he always has a smile on his face and is beyond kind to everyone he meets. He has taught me what it means to persevere and make every day count.”
It has been estimated that Gaba has spent 75% of his life at hospitals. His mother first discovered Gaba’s health issues at 9 months old, when she noticed his eyes appeared white in a photo taken at a family gathering. He was diagnosed with a malignant tumor of the retina and soon lost his sight.
Gaba has since had operations, aggressive chemotherapy, radiation and a bone marrow transplant to treat tumors on his neck, legs and lungs.
Recent scans showed cancer has spread more into his lungs and now his brain.
“Things are bad,” his mother, Sonsy, said. “Just keep praying. Mo hasn’t given up, so we can’t either.”
When the Ravens learned of the news, coach John Harbaugh put out a statement: “We’re asking everyone to pray for our No. 1 fan.”
Gaba’s celebrity in Baltimore started five years ago when he secretly called into a local sports talk show while his mother was at work. His mother didn’t find out Gaba was talking about the Orioles and Ravens on the radio until the elementary school informed her that Gaba had contacted the hosts about speaking with an invitation written in braille.
Over the years, Gaba has thrown out the first pitch before an Orioles game at Camden Yards and participated in the Ravens’ coin toss at M&T Bank Stadium. At a Ravens practice last year, Gaba got to call a play in the huddle — which resulted in a Lamar Jackson touchdown pass.
Last year, Gaba made NFL draft history by becoming the first to announce a pick off a card written in braille. When Gaba read the pick, which was guard Ben Powers in the fourth round, the Ravens’ draft room erupted in applause.
Why has Gaba gotten into the hearts of so many athletes and sports fans?
“You can say I have mojo!” Gaba said Tuesday before laughing.
For his graduation celebration, police closed off the block for more than a half hour, letting only Gaba’s parade of cars to go through. People wore “Mo Strong” shirts. They flashed signs congratulating Gaba. They even gave him orange balloons with a braille message that read, “Way to go big guy.”
Gaba was presented with a montage video that included several Orioles and Ravens wishing him the best. When Bozeman heard of the parade last night, he immediately made plans to attend.
“The kid has the most heart of any kid I’ve ever seen,” Bozeman said. “He so sweet and so kind. He’s infectious. He makes you want to be a better person.”
Jeremy Conn, a sports talk show host for 105.7 The Fan, has grown close to Gaba since first taking his calls on the air. He spent three hours on Monday playing video games with Gaba, who hits buttons by listening closely to the sounds.
Conn said he has been asked more about Gaba than anything else he has done in his 20 years of radio combined. In three days, he raised $30,000 in donations for Gaba.
“When you meet him, he’s an absolute game-changer,” Conn said. “You look at him and he puts everything in perspective. You see this kid has been dealt the worst hand that any human being could be dealt, over and over and over again. And he has this positive outlook and all he does is keep fighting.”