About 20 steps from Mo Gaba’s garden apartment in Glen Burnie, Maryland, hundreds of people drove their cars down the street Tuesday, honking and screaming his name to celebrate the Baltimore sports superfan’s eighth-grade graduation.
A few minutes after the parade, Ravens offensive lineman Bradley Bozeman presented a game ball to Gaba. It looked exactly like the ones given to players after starring in a game. This one, however, featured a touching inscription: “#MOSTRONG.”
“Actually, this doesn’t go to me,” Gaba said, lifting the ball over his head. “This goes to my mom.”
Gaba, 14, is in the midst of his fourth battle with cancer. He has impressed local sports fans and figures for years with his positive attitude and selflessness. When he received news recently that his cancer has spread, Gaba’s first question was about who was going to help his mother.
“If we all had a little more Mo in us,” Bozeman said, “the world would be a lot better place.”
It has been estimated that Gaba has spent 75% of his life at hospitals. His mother, Sonsy, first discovered Gaba’s health issues at 9 months old, when she noticed his eyes appeared white in a photo taken at a family gathering. He was diagnosed with a malignant tumor of the retina and soon lost his sight.
Gaba has since had operations, aggressive chemotherapy, radiation and a bone marrow transplant to treat tumors on his neck, legs and lungs.
Recent scans showed cancer has spread more into his lungs and now his brain.
“Things are bad,” Sonsy said. “Just keep praying. Mo hasn’t given up, so we can’t either.”
When the Ravens learned of the news, coach John Harbaugh put out a statement: “We’re asking everyone to pray for our No. 1 fan.”
Gaba’s celebrity in Baltimore started five years ago when he secretly called a local sports talk show on 105.7 The Fan while his mother was at work. He heard other people giving their opinions about the Orioles and Ravens, and he wanted to give his own.
His mother didn’t find out Gaba was talking on the radio until his elementary school informed her that her son had contacted the hosts, with an invitation written in braille, about speaking at his school. Mo soon became a frequent guest on shows, giving his predictions for games and even getting his own intro music (Stone Cold Steve Austin’s “Glass Shatters” theme song).
Over the years, Gaba has thrown out the first pitch before an Orioles game at Camden Yards. He also spent an entire day with Orioles outfielder Trey Mancini during the All-Star break two years ago.
“Mo is without a doubt the most fearless and special person I have ever met in my life,” said Mancini, who is undergoing chemotherapy treatment after having a cancerous tumor removed from his colon in March. “He brightens the day of every person he comes in contact with. No matter what the situation, he always has a smile on his face and is beyond kind to everyone he meets. He has taught me what it means to persevere and make every day count.”
With the Ravens, Gaba has participated in the coin toss at M&T Bank Stadium. At a practice, Gaba got to call a play in the huddle — which resulted in a Lamar Jackson touchdown pass.
Last year, Mo made NFL draft history by becoming the first person to announce a pick off a card written in braille. When he read the pick, which was guard Ben Powers in the fourth round, the Ravens’ draft room erupted in applause.
Why has Gaba gotten into the hearts of so many athletes and sports fans?
“You can say I have mojo!” he said before laughing.
For his graduation celebration, police closed off the block for more than 30 minutes, letting only Gaba’s parade of cars to go through. People wore “Mo Strong” shirts. They flashed signs congratulating Gaba. They even gave him orange balloons with a braille message that read, “Way to go big guy!”
Gaba was presented with a montage video that included several Orioles and Ravens wishing him the best.
“It’s overwhelming and I’m eternally thankful for everything,” his mother said. “It’s insane how many have fallen in love with him.”
Family and friends tell Sonsy that her son gets his strength from her. She shakes her head, saying it’s all him. When she feels down because of his illness, Mo tells her, “I’m fine. Don’t worry about me.”
“No kid should have to be that strong,” Sonsy said.
Jeremy Conn, one of the hosts for 105.7 The Fan, has grown close to Gaba since first taking his calls on the air. He spent three hours on Monday playing video games with Mo, who hits buttons by listening closely to the sounds.
Conn said he has been asked more about Mo than anything else he has done in his 20 years of radio. In three days, he raised $30,000 in donations for Mo.
“When you meet him, he’s an absolute game-changer,” Conn said. “You look at him and he puts everything in perspective. You see this kid has been dealt the worst hand that any human being could be dealt, over and over and over again. And he has this positive outlook and all he does is keep fighting.”