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The sports year was filled with stories about the power of dogged determination

Back in April, before the Rochester Red Wings home opener, I wrote a column about Milo the Bat Dog, the golden retriever who has become a folk hero in these parts for his ability to fetch baseball lumber and boost spirits during minor-league games at the ballpark previously known as Frontier Field.

Each Milo retrieval was greeted with thunderous applause. Didn’t matter if the Wings were getting clobbered or up by 18. Milo would steal the show and get the whole place buzzing each time he emerged from the box seat he shared with his trainer and best friend, Josh Snyder.

Like many stars, Milo stumbled out of the gate. He had trained for six months in the backyard solitude of Snyder’s rural home before his Frontier debut in front of thousands in the summer of 2018. When it came time for the “Goodest Boy” to fetch his first Louisville Slugger at a Wings game, he took four steps before doing an abrupt about face and heading back to Snyder, sans bat.

“Milo gave me this look that said: ‘Ah, sorry Josh, but I’m not doing this,’ Snyder recalled.

“The bat boy went out and got the bat, and my heart sank.”

Mighty Milo had struck out.

But baseball, like life, is a game of failure and second chances. And Milo would make the most of his. When it was time to retrieve again, Snyder, who grew up with goldens and is a professional dog trainer, went for broke and removed Milo’s leash. Untethered, Milo trotted confidently onto the diamond, grabbed the bat with his teeth and brought it back. The crowd roared its approval, Milo received a yummy treat, and since that time our hometown nine’s favorite canine has batted one thousand.

One of the nice offshoots of this story is that his appearances at Frontier wound up raising tens of thousands of dollars for charitable causes.

As I leafed through 52 weeks of columns from the past year, I realized I had written about many who were “doggedly’’ determined.

These included people like Penfield’s Bob Wheeler and his wife, Florence Ridlon, who teamed up to end one of sports’ most painful and long-standing injustices. In late July, 40 years after Flo’s detective work provided Bob with the vital, missing piece of information needed to get Jim Thorpe’s Olympic medals restored, the couple received word that the International Olympic Committee was revising its record books to list the Native American sports legend and cultural icon as the sole winner of the pentathlon and decathlon at the 1912 Summer Games in Stockholm, Sweden.

“It’s been such a long and personal journey for us,’’ Flo said after hearing the news. “When we received the letter from the IOC, we choked up and shed some tears. Forty years is a long time, but we never gave up hope because we thought the evidence in his favor was irrefutable and support kept building.”

The first step in this long and winding road was taken 68 years ago when Bob’s father gave him a book about Thorpe. A seed was planted. In the summer of 1967, as part of his research for a master’s degree in history at Syracuse University, Bob grabbed his bulky reel-to-reel tape recorder and hitch-hiked across America interviewing nearly 200 people, including Dwight D. Eisenhower, Burt Lancaster, Thorpe’s relatives, and a teacher who had Thorpe as a student. Bob earned his master’s and later wrote a definitive biography of Thorpe.

Fortunately, his and Flo’s advocacy didn’t stop there. And next year, Bob’s book is going to be turned into a movie about the man many regard as the greatest athlete of the 20th century.

Speaking of righting wrongs, this year marked the 50th anniversary of Title IX, the landmark legislation that has helped female athletes experience opportunities previously open only to males. Among those who have helped level the playing field is longtime University of Rochester coach and administrator Jane Possee. Women’s programs have come a long, long way since those days back in the 1970s when a men’s basketball coach refused to end his practice on time so that Possee’s team could play its scheduled game on the main court.

“I guess there were times I felt like I was a little bit of a squeaky wheel, but, at the same time, I don’t believe I was doing anything inappropriate,’’ she said. “We weren’t trying to be unreasonable. We were just advocating for equity and support.”

Thanks to gutsy advocates like her, generations of girls and young women have enjoyed opportunities that often didn’t exist for Possee’s pre-Title-IX generation.

As the designated pitcher for the Challenger Baseball World Series since its inception in 1993, Dave Lanning had the distinction of never, ever getting a batter out. His earned run average was higher than Everest.

When he took the mound for his 30th and final time last June, the longtime Fairport High School baseball and football coach was batted around again. By kids in wheelchairs. By kids on crutches and walkers. By kids without arms. By kids with autism, Down syndrome, cerebral palsy or some other physical, mental or emotional challenge. And, invariably, the person flashing smiles even bigger than the batters pummeling him was Lanning.

“I’ve coached high school, college, and professional sports, but the most rewarding coaching I’ve ever done has been with the Challenger program,’’ he said. “The kids are laughing and having a grand old time. Who cares if they run to third base instead of first? It doesn’t matter. What matters is they are getting an opportunity to play ball and have fun, just like their brothers and sisters and friends. To me, it’s sports in its purest, most joyous form.”

Turning tragedy into triumph was another recurring theme among my subjects. At the Winter Olympics in Beijing, skier Chris Lillis executed a twisting, quintuple, backward flip and nailed the landing to propel Team USA to a gold medal in the mixed aerial competition. But a gold medal wasn’t the only thing draped around his neck during the awards ceremonies. He also wore a glass pendant infused with his little brother Mikey’s ashes.

Mikey, like Chris and older brother, Jon, also had Olympic potential, but he died unexpectedly in his sleep at age 17 five years earlier. Chris’s victory fulfilled a dream he had for his little brother, his close-knit family known as “Team Lillis,” and the Rochester community that embraced them throughout their journey.

Of all the stories I told in 2022, perhaps none was more inspirational and improbable than Daniel Brito’s comeback. A year earlier, on July 31, the Philadelphia Phillies third base prospect collapsed and nearly died at Frontier Field during a game against the Red Wings. For nearly 20 minutes, medics worked on him before he was whisked by ambulance to Strong Memorial Hospital. He had suffered a seizure and brain bleed that necessitated several surgeries and a medically induced coma. After months of arduous therapy in which Brito had to re-learn how to walk and regain use of his paralyzed left hand, the 24-year-old began lifting weights, taking batting practice and fielding grounders.

And, last August, he was back at Frontier to throw out the ceremonial first pitch, while surrounded by several first-responders, nurses and doctors who played roles in saving his life and aiding his astonishing recovery.

“To see where he was and where he is now is nothing short of a miracle,’’ said Naomi Silver, the Wings President and CEO. “That he didn’t give up, considering how much this initially affected him, is truly remarkable.”

Brito still has a way to go before playing professional baseball again, but I’ll be rooting for him – and for more inspiring stories like his to write about in the coming year.

Best-selling author and nationally honored journalist Scott Pitoniak is the Rochester Business Journal sports columnist.


  1. Very inspiring to read as always. Especially, in this time of much discouraging news.

  2. Your articles are still my favorite!! You never cease to amaze me with your stories! These are usually the people we’d never hear about on the TV sports coverage. Your stories are the heart and soul of sports!! Wishing you a fabulous New Year and please keep bringing us the inside stories of our sports heroes. You Rock, Scott, and we all appreciate it more than you know!!

  3. Thank you, Priscilla, and thank you, Ellen! You are most kind. Being able to shine a light on those who lift spirits is a true pleasure and privilege. Here’s to many more such stories in the coming year. A happy, healthy, peaceful 2023 to you both!


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