By Brent Glasgow
---- — The arrival of spring is always a good time for baseball teams and fans of the sport, but something special is happening at the University of Indianapolis this season.
There, a new member of the Greyhounds’ baseball program is changing lives.
Pittsboro’s Owen Mahan joined the team with a mock-signing in February, and the 6-year-old has since become what one player called the team’s “X-factor.”
“Our kids love him, and he’s a part of this ball club,” UIndy baseball coach Gary Vaught said. “He will always be a part of our family, and he’s going to have an impact on a lot of people in his life. I’m just glad we’re a part of it.”
At 2, Owen was severely burned over 98 percent of his body. His birth parents in Kansas told investigators he fell into a bathtub filled with scalding water, and those same parents didn’t request medical assistance until two hours after the incident. Charges were never filed.
Despite being given no chance of survival, Owen pulled through, and Pittsboro’s Susan and Jim Mahan took him home under a foster-care agreement. They legally adopted him a year-and-a-half ago.
Over the past three years, Owen has continued to defy medical projections. Doctors once thought he wouldn’t walk or talk, yet he does both aplenty. Still, his path is far from easy. He travels to Shriners hospitals in Cincinnati and St. Louis for care, and will endure two to three painful surgeries per year until he stops growing.
In addition to stretching exercises, Owen needs lotion applied four times daily, including at Pittsboro Primary School. There, he has his own aide, and Shriners comes in each year to talk to students about what they can do to help him.
Hoping to find ways to ease Owen’s difficulties, the Mahans were introduced to Team IMPACT, a Massachusetts-based nonprofit that pairs children suffering from significant ailments with collegiate teams. The mission is two-fold — to have the kids gain strength and confidence through the camaraderie, and to teach the athletes about courage and life perspective.
Team IMPACT’s in-depth pairing process included extensive interviews to find an ideal match. Based on the results, they knocked it out of the park in choosing the UIndy baseball program.
“He’s much more outgoing now because of it,” Susan Mahan said. “He looks so forward to going and meeting up with the team. He talks about his uniform all the time and asks us to help him throw some balls.”
Last Sunday, Owen was on-hand in his customized Rawlings threads for UIndy’s doubleheader sweep of Lewis. The day included riding in a golf cart with Vaught, dragging the infield, throwing out the first pitch and sitting on the lap of freshman pitcher Jordan Tackett to man the radar gun.
Tackett talked about it on “Owen’s Blog,” a collection of player posts on the team’s website.
“I felt as if this game served as some special bonding time between Owen and myself,” Tackett said. “By the end of that special day, I felt as if I was his big brother, and I really appreciate the time I was able to spend with him. He’s an incredibly strong young man, and I can only hope to be as courageous as him as I go on with my life.”
Those aren’t just words. Vaught said the genuineness and caring his players display around Owen is striking.
“I’m seeing something in these young men that there’s no way we would’ve seen if we didn’t have this experience,” Vaught said. “You know the little guy’s going through pain, but he’s full of life and nothing bothers him. When he’s around our guys, he lifts everybody. There aren’t words to describe how he makes me feel when I’m around him.”
The Greyhounds have more than impressed Owen’s parents.
“This team of young men is the best group I’ve seen in a long time,” Susan said. “They are so invested in making things wonderful for Owen.
“For him to be part of a team is amazing. Someone asked me, ‘He’s only 6, do you think he gets it?’ He gets it.”
Owen’s team membership is for life. It will last long after Vaught and this year’s players have moved on. The Greyhounds have put their heart and soul into getting to know their new friend, and the rewards are beyond original comprehension.
“I think we are getting more out of it than what we can ever give him,” Vaught said.
Follow Hendricks County Flyer sports writer Brent Glasgow on Twitter @BGlasgow37.