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Michael Acosta was already having a pretty special day, even before he saw the DVD.
It was June 4 in Keller, Texas, and Michael was returning home from his high school graduation ceremony, a coronation of not just a normal education, but also Michael's ability to overcome testicular cancer, undergo three rounds of chemotherapy and make up enough schoolwork to graduate on time.
He figured the anonymous DVD with the simple message "Play me" was a gag gift from a couple of friends from work. Moments later, Michael was watching Twins manager Ron Gardenhire invite him to Minnesota to help manage his favorite team.
"He was speechless," recalled Michele Acosta, Michael's mother. "It was hilarious. Michael is rarely speechless."
The silence didn't last long. As soon as the initial shock wore off, Michael's Facebook status was updated to let all his friends know he had gotten the best graduation present ever.
Michael, a 17-year-old who loves to play basketball, began to notice inflammation near his abdomen in March 2010. At first, he figured it was just a basketball injury and waited for it to go away. It didn't.
|Michael Acosta helped Ron Gardenhire manage the Twins.|
"We went to the doctor, and within seven minutes -- I timed it -- within seven minutes, his doctor had already set him up with an appointment for a sonogram," Michele said.
The next day, Michael was told he had testicular cancer.
"It was scary," Michael said. "I thought it was going to be the end for me. When you hear cancer, you think of death, so that was the first thought that came into my head. I was hoping it was a bad dream, but it wasn't. It was something I had to deal with and overcome."
Less than a week later, Michael went into surgery, and shortly after, he began chemotherapy. He went through three rounds of treatment, each of which included five days in the hospital.
He missed going to school, spending time with his friends and playing sports. He lost 20 pounds. He temporarily lost his hair.
"He's usually real positive and upbeat," Michele said. "But most of the time that he was in the hospital, he slept the whole time. He didn't have any energy at all."
The treatment worked. During the summer, doctors extracted the lymph nodes from his abdomen, and they found nothing but dead cancer cells. On Aug. 23, Michael's cancer was officially in remission.
Naturally, once Michael knew he was healthy, he went back to the things he loved most. He put in extra time with teachers to make up lost time in the classroom. He hung out with his friends. And he continued to cheer for the Minnesota Twins.
The Acosta family lives in the Fort Worth area, but family roots tie them to the Twin Cities. Since the 2002 American League Championship Series, Michael has been a devoted follower of Gardenhire and the Twins.
|Michael Acosta shagged flies during batting practice, then waited with the team for the game to begin.|
"I think it was just how close-knit the players were and really laid-back Gardenhire was because that was his first year managing," Michael said. "He's a real players' manager. He sticks up for his players, and he really has a love and respect for the game."
As Michael found out after his graduation, the admiration was mutual. And on June 10, the two would team up to manage the Twins against the Texas Rangers at Target Field.
Michael sat behind the desk in Gardenhire's office, clad in a personalized jersey and cap. He shagged flies during batting practice and met the players as they warmed up. He helped Gardenhire conduct a pregame news conference and answered questions when Gardenhire directed them toward him. He threw out the honorary first pitch and helped present the lineup to the umpires. He was even given a signed glove from Gardenhire, a signed ball from Joe Nathan, and signed bats from Jim Thome and Justin Morneau. When the game began, the Acosta family watched from a suite.
"I don't know if I could pick a favorite part; he loved every minute of it," Michele said. "Just watching Michael, the expression on his face -- he was beaming the entire time we were there. He's loved them for the longest time. Just to be out there with the ballplayers and be treated like one of the guys was real special for him."
The Twins lost 9-3 that day, but Michael still has high hopes for the club he helped manage.
"Their offense is starting to finally come around," he said. "Hopefully this year, but within a couple years, I think they'll bring a World Series to Minnesota."
And would their extra manager get a ring?
"I hope so. I should suggest that. Even though I couldn't bring them a victory, I was there for moral support."