Mo Gaba never hit a home run or struck out a batter.
He never scored a touchdown nor made a tackle.
Yet, the 14-year old who died in July after fighting cancer virtually his entire life is in two halls of fame. And no one who knew Mo or heard his voice doubts his credentials.
Throughout the past several years, Mo Gaba — with his enthusiastic support for Baltimore’s sports teams along with his irrepressible optimism that was characterized by a lyrical, delight of a laugh — had become a beloved local celebrity.
His calls to the sports talk radio program hosted by broadcasters Jeremy Conn and Scott Garceau on 105.7 The Fan became events unto themselves.
Mo won the hearts of fans and athletes and coaches and simply anyone within earshot of his voice.
Mo Gaba’s story has been oft-told by now. As a baby, his mother, Sonsy Gaba, noticed a curious thing in a simple photo. Rather than his eyes appearing red, they were white.
The diagnoses and bouts of health issues, primarily cancer, were seemingly nonstop. Mo lost his sight as a baby and eventually, he was mostly in a wheelchair.
But the Glen Burnie, Md., youngster had a voice that was pure magic and a heart that embraced the world. As he began to express his interest in sports as a caller to the radio show, the world took notice.
“In the beginning, he was a kid who called the show and we knew a little about his story but I didn’t know Mo personally,” said Garceau, who is doing Orioles play-by-play on MASN this season. “But there was this kid who would come on and there was always that laugh, a laugh that would energize the radio if you were listening. And there was this incredible spirit.
“We talked about all sorts of things — what was going on at school and maybe we’d ask him his ‘pick to click’ and he’d give us some crazy predictions. But when he hung up, you always had a smile on your face.”
Athletes noticed, too.
Trey Mancini, the Orioles’ star slugger who is currently receiving treatments for colon cancer, became a close friend.
“Mo was not dealt a great hand of cards but every single day he carried himself in a way that we all should,” Mancini said. “Here was a person who was so positive and so happy all the time. Even when things weren’t going his way, he was always positive. He always had something great to say. He had a quotable line every time you were with him. Mo inspired me and countless others to just be better and live every day to a more full extent. He continues to do that and always will.”
Just before Mo died July 28, the Orioles announced Mo was being inducted into the team’s Hall of Fame. It isn’t the only Hall where Mo is remembered.
During the 2019 NFL Draft, Mo announced the Ravens’ fourth-round pick, guard Ben Powers, reading from a card written in Braille.
The card is now on display at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.
In getting the news to Mo and his family before Mo died, the Pro Football Hall’s president and CEO, David Baker, recorded a message.
“That was a history-breaking performance, Mo, and we want to remember that at the Pro Football Hall of Fame,” Baker said. “So we’re going to put it on exhibit, along with Ed Reed’s bronze bust and Jonathan Ogden and Ray Lewis’ bronze busts.”
Baker went on to say that Ravens third-year quarterback Lamar Jackson may be headed to Canton one day, “but you’re in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Congratulations. Welcome to the Hall of Fame, Mo.”
Ravens offensive lineman Bradley Bozeman is one of many athletes who became friends with Mo. Bozeman was part of an eighth-grade graduation car parade that passed by Mo’s home in June.
True to form, Mo was surprised by the fuss.
“Even during the coronavirus stuff? I feel really special about it,” he said at his parade.
Bozeman is among the many who have had Mo reach for a hand to start a conversation.
“It’s a feeling of instant friendship,” Bozeman said. “He grabs your hand and you know that you and Mo are buddies. You know that he has welcomed you and has embraced you and he loves you. It’s such a special thing. When you think of holding hands with someone, you don’t always think of that but with Mo, that’s the way it was. That was his way of accepting you.”
Mancini referred to a Mo handhold as his “signature move.”
“It’s his way of being close to people, even though he couldn’t see us,” Mancini said. “The fact that he would grab our hand and engage in conversation — it’s a difficult thing to describe. But if you’ve been there, you know it’s his signature move — to grab your hand and start talking to you. I’m definitely going to miss that.”
Garceau often experienced the influence Mo had on thousands of Baltimore sports fans — people who knew Mo only through his voice and constant upbeat mood.
“In the beginning when Jeremy and I started doing the radio show together, people would ask about working with Jeremy — was it as much fun as it sounds,” Garceau said. “But over the last two or three years, the thing I heard most from the fans wasn’t about the Ravens or the Orioles. It was, ‘How is Mo doing, I love that kid.’ And then they’d ask more about him. Everybody cared about him.”
In 2020, Mo’s condition worsened and the prognosis was grim.
“I found out about the diagnosis, that it had gone to his brain, just before we did the drive-by graduation ceremony for him,” Mancini said. “I learned that he had maybe 10 weeks and it’s never easy to hear that. It was heartbreaking. We all know Sonsy, his mom, and we know Mo fought so hard. They’ve been through so much.”
During those days, Mo’s concerns were not for himself but that so many people had been rooting for him, and his thoughts were with his mother.
“Sonsy is extremely strong. She misses her Mo dearly. He was her whole world,” Mancini said. “But she’s a really strong woman and she’s holding herself up all right.”
The optimistic worldview of a child who lost his sight as a baby is a gift anyone who met Mo Gaba cherishes.
“I remember the energy level he had, how he carried himself,” Bozeman said. “The spirit that he showed — the highest spirit of any kid I’ve ever known. As we know, Mo wasn’t dealt a very good hand. From the beginning his vision was taken away from him. … Mo couldn’t see like you and I but he had better vision than anyone else on this earth. In the darkest times, he saw nothing but light and he made nothing but light.”
Photo Credits: Courtesy of the Baltimore Orioles and Bradley Bozeman