PLAINFIELD TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — It was a doubleheader of heart-warming events at the West Michigan Whitecaps game Friday.
The Whitecaps were taking on the Dayton Dragons, but for many the most important plays had nothing to do with balls and strikes.
A Grand Rapids man who has been battling cancer was able to throw out the first pitch and a soldier returning home from the Middle East was able to surprise her mother as the crowd watched.
Steve Bok, 55, has been battling lymphoma and prostate cancer. He is in stage four.
“I’ve been fighting prostate cancer for seven years,” Bok said.
He says soon he will be going to Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland for more treatment, but Friday night he was able to get the ball across the plate at a special event.
“It’s everything will B-O-K, that’s our last name is spelled,” Bok said. “We’ve got a bunch of family and friends that are up there wearing this shirt, we have 85 people here to support me today.”
He said while the disease has been awful, the support has been inspiring.
“Especially tonight to get 85 people here is awesome,” Bok said. “God has been good to us.”
But while Bok threw out the first pitch, the emotional closer was the return of 20-year-old Grandville High School graduate Sarah Ilbrink.
Her mom, Kari was not expecting her home for several more weeks. Her daughter had not been home since November, serving in Bahrain.
Mom thought she was just seeing a video during the Whitecaps regular salute to local service people. She fell for the trick play as her daughter trotted out on the field and into the tearing, warm embrace of her mother.
Sarah Ilbrink said Fifth Third Ball Park was where she wanted to surprise her mom.
“This is the very first ballgame I ever went to, so I fell in love with this place,” Pvt. Ilbrink said. “It means a lot to be back, it’s great to be back.”
When did mom know it was real?
“When I got to hold her, when I go to hold her,” Army Spc. Kari Ilbrink said. “It’s nice to hold your baby.”
The mom says she is proud of her daughter’s service, but it’s best to have her safe at home.
The Ilbrinks are planning to spend time on Lake Michigan before she is redeployed.