MLB Commissioner invites 14-year-old Koch to All-Star Game in Miami
By Joe Trezza
TARRYTOWN, N.Y. -- Baseball served as an escape for Benjamin Koch, something to focus on and something to love, since he was diagnosed with life-threatening adrenoleukodystrophy in 2010. Known as ALD, it is a genetic condition that attacks the neurons in the brain. It affects 18,000 people, mostly boys and men, in the United States every year.
Koch watched the Yankees, whom he'd grow to adore, every night as he underwent treatment. He'd stay up to watch Clayton Kershaw dominate the West Coast games. He'd choose a Kris Bryant homer over homework any day. To talk to Koch is to see the now 14-year-old's eyes light up at the utterance of anything baseball, from Derek Jeter's number retirement to the upcoming MLB Draft.
And if he could have anything, it would be the chance to see all his heroes gathered in one place, on one field. That's what he told the Hudson Valley chapter of the Make-A-Wish foundation, which granted Koch his wish Friday night in grand fashion.
It's not just that Koch will be attending the MLB All-Star Game presented by MasterCard on July 11 at Marlins Park in Miami. He got to hear the news from Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred, who surprised him at the Make-A-Wish Hudson Valley Wish Ball.
Manfred, who was honored at the foundation's annual gala, held at the historic Abigail Kirsch at Tappan Hill Mansion, called Koch's name in front of a packed banquet hall. Manfred brought Koch on stage and revealed he'll be heading to Miami for the experience of a lifetime.
"That thrill was amazing," Koch said. "Usually I'm watching stuff on TV and I say, 'Wow, that's Commissioner Manfred.' Today I was looking at the TV, and he was right there. I was shaking. It was incredible."
Koch was just one of several honorees in attendance whose wishes have been granted by Make-A-Wish, the nonprofit that arranges unique experiences for children with life-threatening medical conditions. The Hudson Valley chapter alone has granted wishes to more than 2,500 children since it was established in 1986. Friday's event operated as a fundraiser for the organization, which is hoping to grant wishes for more than 150 local children.
Major League Baseball and Make-A-Wish have long been partners, and Manfred has been particularly involved with the Hudson Valley chapter for nearly two decades.
"We try to engage with young people, but we also try to remember there are some kinds of engagement for whom the normal form of engagement, playing our game, is just not possible," Manfred said. "We really want to go out of our way for kids like Benjamin who have demonstrated tremendous courage in overcoming obstacles no kid should have to deal with."
That's certainly true of Koch, who has missed just one Yankees game in three years. He received a bat from Derek Jeter one Spring Training and spoke to Carlos Beltran. Those were the biggest baseball thrills for a resilient family that has been tested in ways few can relate.
At least those were the biggest thrills before Friday. More are on the way come July.
"The moment was amazing. If I pictured it to be amazing, this was even better than that," Koch said. "It's a dream come true."
Joe Trezza is a reporter for MLB.com based in New York. Follow him on Twitter at @joetrezz. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.