Baseball has had a special hold on Hailey Dawson for all seven of her inspiring years. Now she’s gripping it back.
Hailey, a spunky second-grader from Las Vegas, has only two fully formed fingers on her right hand because she was born with Poland Syndrome, a rare defect. This, however, is where that conversation ends and where many new and exciting ones begin.
Hailey and her family are huge baseball fans, and they’re on a mission to have Hailey throw out a ceremonial first pitch at every Major League stadium with the use of one of seven robotic hands developed for her at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas through the burgeoning technology of 3-D printing.
Hailey has already displayed the talent for her favorite team, the Baltimore Orioles, which allowed her to meet her favorite player, Manny Machado. She’s already hobnobbed with two other MLB superstars, Bryce Harper and Kris Bryant, in their shared hometown of Las Vegas. And this year, Hailey threw out another first pitch in front of Harper at Nationals Park in Washington and will perform an even more widely viewed encore when she tosses the first pitch prior to Game 4 of the 2017 World Series.
“She’s pretty spunky,” says Hailey’s mom, photographer Yong Dawson. “She doesn’t believe she inspires people. I say, ‘What do you mean? How can you say people aren’t encouraged by what you’re doing?’
“She says, ‘I’m just being Hailey. I’m just being me.'”
Whether she’s willing to admit it or not, Hailey has inspired people, and she continues to do so. She’s an Internet celebrity, in fact, after the website Bleacher Report recently tweeted a short video about her story, her amazing hand and her desire to throw a first pitch at every big league stadium.
Soon enough, that Twitter thread unspooled into a growing list of invitations from Major League clubs, some Minor League teams and even some college programs.
“It’s taken on a life of its own,” Yong Dawson says. “It’s awesome.”
And it’s not terribly surprising given how baseball-crazy the Dawson family has always been.
Hailey’s dad, Greg, grew up in Maryland as a staunch Orioles supporter, and he made sure to immerse Hawaii-raised Yong into the intricacies of the game. He coaches their 12-year-old travel-ball-playing son, Zach. Yong and Hailey have been keeping score and shagging flies for years.
So naturally Hailey wanted to be involved. She tried T-ball for a year before transitioning to swimming, but this first-pitch popularity seems to be agreeing with her.
“Ever since the first one at UNLV, she’s loved the attention,” Yong says. “She thinks she’s like everyone else, but she has a ‘special hand’ and gets to throw out a first pitch. First the hand was functional, then it became a confidence thing. She wears it and she gets attention. People just surround her.”
The natural confidence came as the result of a vow Yong made shortly after Hailey’s birth, when the mother made a decision she’d regret but learn from.
“A photographer came by to shoot the newborns, and I purposely hid Hailey’s hand with a long-sleeve onesie so it wouldn’t be in the photo,” Yong says. “I was almost immediately ridden with guilt, and I said, ‘Never again will I hide that hand.’
“I decided right then and there that we’re going to raise her like everyone else and act like nothing is wrong.”
Technology has helped make that a reality. The hand prototypes themselves, created and updated by a team headed by Drs. Mohamed Trabia and Brendan O’Toole in the UNLV Department of Mechanical Engineering, are remarkable examples of where science is taking the world. They are made of hard plastic and stitched together with fishing line. When Hailey wants to open or close her fingers, she moves her wrist.
When she wants to look in at the catcher from a Major League mound and throw a fastball, she can. And she’ll do just that under the bright lights of October at this year’s Fall Classic.
Her mom says she’ll probably act like that’s no big deal, either.
“When she meets other kids and they ask her why she is the way she is, she’s pretty matter-of-fact about it, and I think it has really helped,” Yong says. “She’ll say something like, ‘You’ve got blue eyes and I’ve got this hand.’
“And that’s just the way we are.”
Doug Miller is a reporter for our site. Follow him on Twitter @DougMillerMLB.