A Squirrel's pitcher learned his mom had Stage 3 cancer. His team stepped up to help.

A Squirrel's pitcher learned his mom had Stage 3 cancer. His team stepped up to help.
Posted at 11:41 PM, Jun 30, 2022

RICHMOND, Va. -- You may have attended a Flying Squirrels game in the past and marveled at how much effort and attention they put into what happens in the stands and around The Diamond.

Recently, they held one of their theme nights that hit closer to home than most and the response was overwhelming to everyone involved.

For the first time in perhaps their entire history in Richmond, the Flying Squirrels lead both on the field and off.

They have been in or near first place for a good part of the season and are again leading the league in attendance.

It has once again made the Diamond the place to be this summer.

"The different things that happen around the games, whether it be fireworks or specific themes, really affect people's memory-making capabilities and also create a buzz that permeates the entire community," Parney said.

Parney and his staff have created a reputation that proceeds them annually.

When pitcher Chris Wright learned he was headed to play here this year, he was already aware of a much different stadium atmosphere than to which he was accustomed to playing in the minors.

"The fans are really into the game, so you feel the energy from them every single time," Wright said. "Probably every single week we look up and say, what the heck is going on right now?"

Wright is one of the few players who actually have family in the stands nearly every night.

His uncle, Jay Peluso, lives in Richmond and has been to far more games than usual this year. And unfortunately for both, that bond is more important now than it's ever been.

"She still is the most important in my life and that's not going to change anytime soon," Wright said.

Earlier this spring, Wright's mother and Peluso's sister Michelle was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, which is now at stage 3.

Peluso is the executive director for Swim Across America Richmond which has raised over $150,000 in four years for VCU's Massey Cancer Center.

He knows that the worst words that anyone can hear are you have cancer.

"Michelle is a fighter, one of the toughest people I've met. If anybody is going to beat this thing, it's her," Peluso said.

Knowing his sister would soon lose her hair due to chemotherapy, Peluso offered to shave his own head in solidarity.

Michelle nixed that idea.

"I don't want anybody to shave their head. I'm going to get a wig and some crazy wig that I'll wear underneath my Squirrels hat. I want you to get a crazy wig. I want you to laugh," Peluso said.

Going to more games and seeing what the team does night in and night out gave Peluso an idea.

"There's a different promotion every single night and they do such a great job with it and it just dawned on me. Why don't we do crazy wig night?" Peluso said.

"When someone comes to you with an idea, try as much as you can to start at yes and go backward from there," Parney said.

"The Squirrels were all over it. They said, absolutely, we can do this for you," Peluso said.

The plan was put in place for June 24. It would be Crazy Wig Night at the Diamond in support of those battling cancer with one special fan in mind.

"It's gonna be really cool. It's going to be amazing to have the whole community here backing me and backing my family," Wright said.

"When I asked her if she was going to be strong enough to come out here and throw out the first pitch on Crazy Wig night, she said you just try and stop me," Peluso said.

"Nervous? I'm going to use that nervous energy and I'm going to make it fun. Just like the Squirrels. Have fun, go nuts!" Michele said.

Michele made the trip to Richmond to see all of the color and pageantry from not only the fans but also from players in both dugouts.

"When the coaching staff did it and the training staff did it and then the Sea Dogs said they would do it, the other team, and for all those guys to come out of the dugout, it was really moving," Peluso.

"I feel happy. I feel joy. I feel overwhelmed. I feel a lot of love. Everybody is supporting me," Michele said.

She made the trip to the mound to throw out the first pitch to her son, who wore a special pink glove for the occasion with a message for his mom.

"For us to be here as a family and for us to participate together just fuels my fire to keep pushing and keep fighting," Michele said.

Michele has already been through three surgeries and three rounds of chemotherapy. It's events like this and the memories from it that help her through the toughest times in battling this disease.

"It doesn't have to be sad. You can have happiness and fun and find joy in the journey," Michele said.

The Squirrels went on to win the game with Chris getting the final out.

They won their battle. Michele vows to do the same.

"I'm going to beat it and so are a lot of other people because of what's happening here today," Michele said.

Michele started her fourth round of chemo this week but her brother reports that her cancer marks are down 188 points, which is very good news.

Peluso also reports they don't have a final tally on how much money was raised from donations that night but thanks to events like this, Swim Across America Richmond is currently 260% ahead of last year in their fundraising with all of the money being donated here locally.