Michael Cadena went from bullying victim to local hero with a single pitch.
Cadena fulfilled a lifelong dream as the 27-year-old Riverside man with special needs, walked on to the mound at Dodger Stadium on Tuesday and threw out the ceremonial first pitch in front of thousands of fans and supporters.
You might remember Cadena’s story on NBC LAÂ from last month, when the young man was pushed and robbed of his beloved Dodgers hat at a local Riverside Target store.
“I was scared and nervous and frightened,” Cadena told our own Hetty Chang about the incident. “My heart was pounding. They shoved me.”
His mother, Sylvia, posted about the incident on her Facebook page and received a bevy of support from the community, and an outpouring of responses from fans donating hats, tickets, and signed memorabilia to Cardena.
“I’m proud of him,” Sylvia said after her son repeatedly refused to surrender his hat before it was physically taken from him. “Proud for speaking up and saying what was in his heart and mind.”
Eventually, word of the incident got out to the Dodgers and they not only gave Cadena free tickets to a game, but through the Dodger Blue Wishes program, invited him to throw out the ceremonial first pitch before Tuesday’s game against the Philadelphia Phillies.
Cadena hung out on the field pregame with some of his favorite players, including reigning National League Rookie of the Year Winner, Cody Bellinger.Â
Bellinger generously gave Cardena an autographed jersey to wear for his big moment on the mound, but agreed to be his catcher for the pitch as well.
Cadena was born with Apert syndrome, a rare genetic disorder that prevents the skull from growing normally and affects the shape of the head and face.
According to the Press-Enterprise, Cardena has undergone multiple surgeries throughout his life and his development was delayed during his adolescence.
Man With Special Needs Bullied at Target
Â Despite his disorder, Cardena maintains a job at a local thrift store called Savers in Riverside, and rides a bus and scooter to work. Cardena is a diehard Dodger fan who wears his LA hat and shirt wherever he goes.
Cardena told NBC LA that he had been practicing for his first pitch for the last few weeks with his father, Joe, in the backyard, and had never thrown a baseball before.Â
Cardena’s fingers are fused together, making it difficult to grip a baseball.
During his first pitch on Tuesday, the left-hander walked to the mound, and then took a few steps towards home plate before bouncing a throw to Bellinger.