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Fan Cave the backdrop for touching surprise

In treatment for leukemia, 13-year-old D'Annibale meets favorite player Cano

Fan Cave the backdrop for touching surprise

NEW YORK -- Young Nicholas D'Annibale's life has been filled with unfortunate adversity, but fate brought him a day to remember on Friday. D'Annibale, a 13-year-old Yankees fan from New Jersey, got a wonderful surprise in the form of a meeting with his favorite baseball player, Robinson Cano.

D'Annibale, who is recovering from a form of leukemia, got to tour the Fan Cave on Friday morning, and then the Cave Dwellers brought him outside for a game of Wiffle ball on Bond Street. And then, after D'Annibale had hit several sizzling line drives, the biggest surprise happened.

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Cano, the Yankees' All-Star second baseman, stepped out of an ice cream truck to raucous applause and embraced D'Annibale. The two talked baseball for a little while and then continued the Wiffle ball game, with Cano both pitching to the youngster and taking some swings of his own.

"He doesn't have a half-speed. He's full speed," said Joseph D'Annibale, Nick's father. "I couldn't quite see his face when Robinson stepped out of the truck. But I'm sure it was an awesome sight."

The younger D'Annibale was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia in November 2011, and he's midway through a 40-month treatment that has seen his strength return. D'Annibale has been able to return to playing baseball, and he took pride in talking about his team Friday at the Fan Cave.

But right when everything was returning to normal, the family got another shock. Joe D'Annibale was diagnosed with multiple myeloma in January, providing another mountain for the family to climb. It hasn't been easy, but the elder D'Annibale will seek to find the same source of strength as his son.

"He deals with it great. He just takes his medicine," said Joe of Nicholas. "At six months, things have eased off. The medication is a little less. You visit the hospital a little less. After living with it for two years of treatment, each month gets progressively easier as far as the dosage and how he reacts to it."

That fight was the backdrop for the D'Annibales' visit to the Fan Cave on Friday, and it was evident that the family's spirits were lifted. Joseph went with Nicholas and daughter Danielle to the Fan Cave -- located at Broadway and West 4th Street in Manhattan -- and kept the secret all the way until arrival.

The family was greeted at the door by the Fan Cave denizens, who led them on a guided tour around the building renovated for perpetual wall-to-wall baseball. Nicholas got to see the Cave's huge bank of TVs and the control board that shows tweets and video from every ballpark around the league.

He even got to take a run down the home run slide that the Cave Dwellers use every time a player from their favorite team goes deep. But at that point, Nicholas had no idea that he was about to meet his favorite player, and he got a chance to tug on a brand new Yankees jersey before heading outside.

"He's a little nervous, because he didn't know what was in store today," said the elder D'Annibale. "My wife and I didn't tell him anything. I actually told him we were coming in to see my son-in-law, who works in the city. I told him we were going to see him for lunch and he was going to take us to some show. I think when he saw the Fan Cave, he kind of put two and two together, and he realized where he was."

The next part of the day involved a Wiffle ball game on closed-down Bond Street, and D'Annibale got to crush some line drives down the street that whacked off buildings. About 20 minutes into the game, an ice cream truck rolled up, and Cano sprang out to greet one of his biggest fans.

The two embraced, and Cano signed Nick's jersey with a flourish:

"To Nic: God Bless. Your biggest fan, Robinson Cano #24."

It was a souvenir of the day a boy met his hero and forgot about his troubles for a while. And for Cano, it was a rare chance to connect with the people that cheer for him nightly in person and at home. Cano, a four-time All-Star, said it was an honor to get to meet a young man with spirit like D'Annibale.

"Keep fighting. You've got to work hard for what you want," said Cano when asked for advice he'd give to D'Annibale. "I hope one day I see you in the big leagues. God bless you."

Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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