Amputee inspires Yanks for HOPE Week

NEW YORK -- One of the first things Mariano Rivera noticed about Jorge Grajales was his smile. It wasn't the fact his arms ended just below his elbows or that he used prosthetics for legs. It was Grajales' infectious grin.

"It was amazing," Rivera said. "How could you not be inspired?"

Rivera and a contingent of New York Yankees players, coaches and officials traveled to Ridgewood, N.J., on Monday afternoon to surprise Grajales at a pool party in the first installment of HOPE Week, a second-year initiative started by the Yankees to highlight the inspirational impact of individuals or organizations on a community.

Grajales certainly is a worthy cause. At 14 months old, Grajales was stricken with a gangrenous infection that forced doctors in his native Panama to amputate all four of his limbs.

Instead of wallowing in self pity, the 13-year-old -- who resides in North Haledon, N.J. -- thrived and excelled under the care of foster parents John and Faye Dyksen. The teen's indomitable spirit has inspired many throughout the small town in northern New Jersey.

"Jorge knows everybody and everybody knows Jorge," Faye Dyksen says. "And once they meet him they don't forget him."

You can count Rivera, Nick Swisher, Brett Gardner, Dustin Moseley, Kevin Long and Mike Harkey among those who won't soon forget Jorge.

The players and coaches surprised Grajales at the home of family friends Jennifer and Anthony DiTommaso in Ridgewood on Monday afternoon. Grajales thought he was going to the DiTommasos to attend a pool party with friends. But minutes after Grajales arrived, Rivera & Co. walked around the side of the house with a cake that read "Jorge, Thank You For Inspiring Us."

Swisher, Gardner and Rivera spent a little over an hour with Grajales and his friends in the pool. Grajales asked Rivera -- a fellow Panamanian -- about his favorite pitch and told the closer about his own exploits on the soccer field.

Rivera's interaction with Grajales made the closer's concern over anything baseball-related seem trivial Monday afternoon.

"I think it has been a blessing for everybody to meet him. But especially to me," Rivera said. "Sometimes we complain about what's happening on the field, about losing games, but look at Jorge. He has tremendous spirit and tremendous joy. ... Why not learn from him?"

Grajales' parents in Panama could not afford the medical costs associated with raising a quadruple amputee. Healing the Children, a non-profit organization, learned of Grajales' plight and approached the Dyksens about bringing Grajales into their home.

"We really felt like that's what we were supposed to do," John Dyksen said.

Community members in North Haledon created Helping Hands for Jorge Inc., a charity organization that raised money to help the Dyksens with the costs of prosthetics for Grajales. With the prosthetics, Grajales can play soccer and baseball. He can also swim, type, text-message and play video games.

"The big man upstairs has blessed him with the determination of no one I have ever seen," Swisher said. "He's an absolute inspiration."

After the pool party, Grajales traveled to the Bronx and was on the field for batting practice before Monday's Yankees-Tigers game, stretching with Rivera in right field and chatting with Joe Girardi behind the backstop while the Yankees hit. He took a picture with Joba Chamberlain, greeted Alex Rodriguez and got an autograph from Robinson Cano. Not a bad way for a 13-year-old to spend a lazy summer afternoon.

One of the most awe-inspiring acts of Grajales' day came at a little after 7 p.m., when he threw out the game's ceremonial first pitch to Francisco Cervelli, cradling the ball with the bottoms of his arms and hurling a strike to the Yankees catcher.

Grajales said he'd never forget his day with Rivera, Swisher and the rest of the Yankees. He also hoped his story would inspire other disabled children to remain optimistic and upbeat, just like he carried himself throughout the day Monday.

"I want to show them they're going to have a future," Grajales said. "It doesn't end. Life doesn't end."

Ian Begley is a regular contributor to ESPNNewYork.com.