The Eastern League All-Star Festivities come to Altoona this week, and there may be no one more excited about this special event than 3-year old Elijah Lamb.
The son of Mike and Brittney Lamb of Bedford looks like a pint-sized Babe Ruth: from his solid frame to his determined gaze. His parents cleverly call him "The Big Lambino."
He's almost always wearing a baseball cap, toting a ball and bat, and he's always ready to play ... or to talk baseball.
To say that Elijah Lamb fell in love with the game at an early age would be an understatement.
"He learned to say 'ball' the day after his first birthday and he forgot all other words he was saying up to that point," said his mother, Brittney, a teacher. "It's like he has balls in his blood."
Still more than a year away from being old enough to play T-ball, Elijah easily hits pitched balls, sometimes over a fence bordering his yard, and rounds the bases with ease.
He understands the rules of the game and frequently asks his dad to do drills with him, never tiring of fielding grounders and pop flies. His play reluctantly ends only with the evening's darkness.
He's quick to share his baseball knowledge with others. Elijah recently corrected his Bible School teacher during a lesson about the Ten Commandments, saying, "Stealing bases is okay."
And his Mom recounts Elijah including the Pirates in his evening prayers: "Dear Jesus, thank you for the Buccos. If they hit one in the river, it would be awesome, and there would be ka-booms [fireworks.] Amen. Let's go Buccos!"
The preschooler wakes up every morning asking what the Altoona Curve did the night before. If his dad has an early meeting, he'll leave Elijah a written "sports report" recapping the important baseball scores of the day. (Elijah is also very interested in the Pirates AAA affiliate in Indianapolis, and of course the major league Pittsburgh club as well.)
Elijah attended his first Curve game before his first birthday, was a member of Curve Kids Club as a 2-year old, and this season is part of the Altoona Curve Junior Engineers Club. He was right at home on the minor league field when he threw out the first pitch for his third birthday last summer. He knows all of the ballpark chants and cheers, as well as the walk-up theme song for every player.
And he's quick to rattle off his favorites: "AJ Morris, Jarek Cunningham, Gift Ngoepe, Alen Hanson, Justin Howard, and Keon Broxton," and he was even more quick to point out that AJ Morris made it to Triple-A.
"During our backyard games, Elijah pretends to be Gift Ngoepe," said Elijah's Dad, Mike, "and he announces Gift, his number, position and promptly breaks into singing 'Boogie Shoes', which was Ngoepe's walk-up song earlier this year. I can't pitch until the song is over."
Elijah's mother says "he gets it from his Dad," this love of baseball, but Mike himself is amazed at his son's passion for the game at such a young age.
"Some of my greatest memories as a kid stem from baseball," Mike said. "As a dad, it's a blessing to share the game of baseball that I loved so much with my son and we've already made so many precious memories ... and he's 3!"
Brittney added: "If anything, we've had to work really hard to open his eyes to experiences and activities that do not involve a baseball. There have been many days where I think to myself, "Can't we play with blocks or trucks? I was prepared to play ball as a mother of a little boy, but not with this level of intensity."
That intensity is on display as Elijah sets baseball goals for himself and then works to achieve them. He has not only gained significant hand-eye coordination, but baseball is also helping Elijah learn his numbers, teamwork and sportsmanship, even though he's still too young to play on an organized team.
"The best thing about watching Elijah play ball is simply the joy that he gets from it," said Brittney. "There is no feeling greater than seeing your child happy. Every Altoona Curve game is like Christmas morning to Elijah, with such excitement that he can hardly stand it."
So imagine the anticipation in the Lamb household as Elijah awaits the start of the Home Run Derby and All-Star Game.
"The Altoona Curve is a first class organization in so many ways," said Mike. "The team has become a special part of our family and we look forward to making more memories with Elijah in the coming years."
Elijah's goal is to someday be the catcher for the Curve, so look for "The Big Lambino" in a future all-star game ... circa 2034.
Kellie Goodman Shaffer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Her column appears on Tuesdays.