Pineville resident Eli Shenise thought he was going to get a tour of BB&T BallPark when his parents drove him uptown on Sunday. Instead, the 12-year-old was offered a contract to join the Charlotte Knights baseball team.
Eli was diagnosed with Burkitt’s lymphoma in May. Soon after, he told the Make-A-Wish Foundation that he wanted to become a Charlotte Knights player for a day.
On Sunday, Charlotte Knights Chief Operating Officer Dan Rajkowski and Knights manager Joel Skinner presented Eli with a one-day contract to play for the team.
“I’m going to prepare myself to be the best I can be and hopefully be better than some players on the current roster,” said Eli, who is cancer-free now. “It’s gonna be an awesome experience.”
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Once the contract was signed, Eli was taken down to the Knights clubhouse, where he had his own locker with his own jersey waiting for him. The jersey featured his name and his favorite number, 37.
“He’ll get to go out and show us his stuff, and then he’ll go into the batting cages and swing with the players and … get ready for tonight’s ballgame,” said Skinner. “Before he does that, though, he has to sign on the dotted line.”
Eli prepared for the 7:05 p.m. game against the Gwinnett Braves first by working with Skinner and second baseman Justin Jirschele around 3:30 p.m. Eli practiced catching ground balls and working the bases.
“He’s a good little player,” said Jirschele. “I think he would have taken that whole bucket (of baseballs) if we didn’t stop him.”
Later in the evening, Eli took the field for the anthem and threw the ceremonial first pitch. He then walked off the field, making sure to skip over the foul line, and joined the Knights in the dugout. Also during the game, Knights players wore bright green wristbands to raise awareness of the fight against non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
Eli said he learned a lot from his practice with Skinner and Jirschele. Chewing gum like a true baseball player, Eli talked about what he’d learned, including how to know when to tag the base or throw to another baseman.
Niki Shenise, 43, said her son took the practice seriously. “He’ll take it to heart and see it as good experience,” said Shenise, adding that her son dreams of becoming a professional baseball player. “It’s not just, ‘Oh, I have cancer, so I get a wish.’ ”
Shenise said she’s grateful that her son got a chance to be part of the team on Sunday. After the kind of summer he’s had, she said he deserves it. “He didn’t have a summer” because of the chemotherapy, Shenise said. “This is a nice way to mark the end of a bad experience.”