By: Ellen Ward
In recent months, Shaela Warkentin has become a household name in Fresno, but not by choice. The Bullard High School sophomore was the victim of a severe car accident on March 18th, 2011. Sixteen year old, Shaela and her sister were returning home from a youth group function when a truck rear-ended the Mustang she was driving. The accident left Shaela in critical condition, which resulted in a two month-long hospital stint. She received several surgeries to correct the damage done to her face and skull, but unfortunately Shaela lost sight in both of her eyes.
Local businesses partnered with the community to help the Warkentin family with the unexpected medical bills. The Fresno Grizzlies caught wind of this opportunity and reached out to the family about a night dedicated to Shaela and her recovery.
“I was telling my wife earlier you come sometimes and see things about other people but you never think its going to be about you, in a way its cool, but in a way it is sad,” expressed, Shaela’s father, Ken Warkentin.
With support from the community and the hands of skilled doctors, Shaela defeated the odds and was released from the hospital on May 10th, 2011, just two months after the accident that threatened her life. She still faces a long road to recovery, but she continues to smile through it all.
“We’ve come to games here before, but this is the first one she can’t see,” said Ken Warkentin.
Shaela threw out the ceremonial first pitch on Monday, May 23rd, while her older sister Kylee sang the national anthem. Not only was the Warkentin family a part of the pre-game action, but a portion of the ticket sales went straight to Shaela’s account to alleviate medical expenses. The park sparkled with purple shirts that Shaela’s family and friends made to support her in the wake of the tragedy.
“It is an incredible honor that the park would do this for us”, said, Ken Warkentin, in response to the Grizzlies opening their arms to his family.
As Shaela took the field, the crowd began to shout words of encouragement to the young, now blind teen. She walked to the mound with her arm wrapped around her father’s, firmly clinching his wrist. She grasped the baseball with both hands, turning back at her father who had let go of her hand. Shaela threw the baseball to Fresno Grizzlies closer, Marc Kroon, and immediately the crowd erupted into cheers. The ball bounced right before home plate, which is a remarkable feat considering Shaela’s injuries.
“I feel so good, I was expecting a lot of this, so many people have talked to me, and said they are praying for me,” said Shaela after she threw out the first pitch.
The Fresno Grizzlies were honored to host the Warkentin family on Monday night. It was an emotional night at the park for players, coaches, staff and fans. After catching the first pitch, Grizzlies closer Marc Kroon said, “ that almost made me cry” to his teammates as he headed back to the dug out.
The organization will continue helping families in need, and reaching out to fans that have been so loyal to them through the years. Everyone at the Grizzlies wishes Shaela a speedy recovery and hopes to see her at more games in the future.