Updated July 29, 2020
My first reaction when I heard the news of Mo Gaba’s death was this really sucks. But then I honed in on what made this unforgettable force of nature so special. I hear him in my head telling Trey Mancini how when he wakes up every day he thinks he is going to do something great. That alone is enough for me not to focus on what is lost. Instead, I choose to see his short life as something extraordinary.
Mo Gaba made us be kinder, he made us care a little more, he made us have some hope. Mostly, he made us care about him and his well-being and the well-being of his Super Mom who shared on Facebook that she lost her best friend with his passing.
When I wrote this column for our July edition, I was rooting so hard for another outcome, while also being quite aware of how this battle is lost all the time by good and sometimes great people.
I have no idea if we can create a movement that will get a Mo Gaba statue built somewhere between the Ravens’ M&T Bank Stadium and Oriole Park at Camden Yards. But, I can tell you this, I’m going to try. It just makes so much sense as the proper way to memorialize my friend Mo Gaba for what he meant to our community.
Let’s face it — there hasn’t been a lot of good to go around since the COVID-19 pandemic grew its way into mass consciousness around the world. More than 130,000 Americans have died from the disease as of early July. By Labor Day, an estimated 200,000 people will be taken from us.
Luckily, we live in a state with a governor who has done the right things, ranging from quickly shutting down the state to wearing a mask in all that he does. As a cancer survivor, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan understands clearly that while a mask can protect the wearer, what one does by wearing a mask is show respect for others who may already be compromised by a variety of previous conditions that nobody could possibly know about.
That’s why our state not only flattened the curve but damn near obliterated the curve for now.
Through it all, there are some uplifting stories to be told, starting with Mo Gaba’s graduation from Lindale Middle School. The 14-year-old was diagnosed with retinoblastoma at 9 months old and has been battling cancer ever since. Mo, who rose to prominence locally after calling into The Scott Garceau Show on 105.7 The Fan in 2015, has slowly but surely become one of the most beloved figures in a generation or two in Baltimore given how he’s fought cancer. In turn, Mo and his mother, Sonsy, have become the best kinds of local celebrities.
How many 14-year-olds have had a long parade of cars come by their house just so others can have a beep-and-wave moment? How many 14-year-olds can say they were tabbed by their favorite NFL team to become the first person to ever announce an NFL draft pick using Braille? How many 14-year-olds can claim Jeremy Conn, Eric DeCosta, Scott Garceau, John Harbaugh, Trey Mancini, Lamar Jackson, Adam Jones, Cal Ripken Jr. and Brooks Robinson as buddies? What 14-year-old can you think of who was named Sportsperson of the Year by a certain sports publication for how he comports himself with such grace and optimism and how he brings people together?
In the case of Mo and Mancini, the two had a special connection — so much so that Mancini says the time he spent with Mo during the 2018 All-Star break helped get him back on track during the second half of the season. And then this spring, who did Mancini turn to for support and special guidance on how to be prepared for his colon cancer surgery and recovery? And Mancini made it a point to not miss one of the best days of Mo’s life — June 16, the day of Mo’s parade.
Conn’s connection to Mo is particularly special, too. After hearing the news nobody wanted to hear about Mo’s situation — Sonsy shared on Facebook June 11 that Mo’s most recent scans “show that things have gotten worse” — Conn jumped into networking mode. What started as an attempt to get Mo a new bed for his family’s apartment in Glen Burnie, Md., led to a social media version of passing the hat — which was aided by Barstool Sports’ Eric Arditti. The pair netted the Gaba family more than $30,000.
On Thursday, July 2, The Low Down — Conn’s evening show on The Fan — was renamed The Big Mo Show and was broadcast from a makeshift studio in the Gaba family’s apartment. Popular demand suggests Conn may have a couple more Big Mo Shows in store.
Thinking about a Baltimore without the light Mo brings has had me blue. He and I have a friendship that is very special to me, and when I do my new daily health regimen to fight off my own health demon of diabetes, not a single 3- to 4-mile walk doesn’t have me thinking about Mo and how this community can best show him the love that he has demonstrated every single time he has been called to the post.
Scott Garceau, now an Orioles broadcaster for MASN, told me a little story about what Mo said to the doctors when he was given the news of his most recent scans. I’m paraphrasing, but it was something close to, “So many people are counting on me, I don’t want to disappoint them.” Even in a moment when given difficult news, that’s Mo — thinking of others and worrying about everyone else.
We live in a crazy world right now, with a lot of focus on what statues need to be removed all across our country. But to me — and I hope our two major sports franchises could work on this together, maybe with the help of the Maryland Stadium Authority — there has got to be a place halfway between M&T Bank Stadium and Oriole Park at Camden Yards where a statue could be erected of my friend Mo Gaba. Maybe as we stand by the statue and cup our ears just right, we’ll be able to hear the most uplifting voice this town has ever known.
Who’s in for passing the hat around for that?
Photo Credit: Courtesy of the Baltimore Orioles
Originally published July 8, 2020. Updated July 29, 2020