By Mike Bush
Columbia, IL (KSDK) - Sometimes you know the winner, even before the game begins.
Nine-year-old Luke Schult is just excited to be playing ball.
"These games are very important to him. He loves being a part of a team," said Luke's mom, Amy Schult.
Luke may not be the best player on his Columbia, Illinois team, but he is the most popular. Even parents from the opposing team root for him.
"It has just been great. He's had a wonderful experience," said his mom.
And after what he's been through, every one of his hits is a home run.
When Luke was just four-years-old, he was diagnosed with a brain tumor.
"He'd have these dizzy spells where he would be totally out of it for a couple of minutes," said Amy.
Making matters worse, the tumor was on his brainstem which controls all motor functions in the body.
"It was about the size of an egg," said Mark Schult, Luke's dad. "The doctor described it as about the size of holding an egg in your hand."
He immediately underwent surgery at St. Louis Children's Hospital to remove as much of the tumor as possible, but when Luke woke up, things were not the same.
"You know he was fine one day, and the next day, he couldn't talk or walk," said Mark.
Luke stayed in the hospital for weeks, then spent months in therapy as an outpatient at Ranken-Jordan Pediatric Hospital.
Finally, this summer he was ready to try and play ball again.
"I was sitting in the office and his dad called me on my cell phone and asked me if I would be willing to take on one more child on the team," recalled little league coach Jack Mueller.
But it couldn't just be any team. With Luke still working on his motor skills, the players would have to be a few years younger, and the coach and the parents would have to be patient. So Mueller sent out a mass email.
"And I told them what was going on," said Mueller. "And I just said 'Hey, please support him. Let him know that we are here for him,' and they did. That's exactly what they did."
For the rest of the season, Luke came to the park with the standard equipment. His jersey, his bat and his smile.
"It just brings you joy to know that people are so excited just to see him succeed, " said Luke's mom.
And now he has a new prized possession. His baseball trophy.
Luke is still in the 8th inning of his 9 inning battle against cancer. He recently underwent more surgery, and the hope is some chemotherapy and radiation will close out the victory.
"He is going to get better and we're going to all move on past this," said Amy Schult.
Winning at more than just a game. Thanks to the generosity others, Luke Schult is not only fitting in, he's standing out.
"Oh, it makes your heart melt," said Mark Schult. "It really does."