For Gabby

Camels’ road to NCAA regional in Knoxville made special by unwavering support from their biggest fan 

There is no sound more synonymous with Campbell baseball than the cheers of “Let’s Go Drake,” belted by the Camels’ most enthusiastic fan.

For the last six years, Gabby Hernandez has rolled up to Jim Perry Stadium in her wheelchair, belting these chants for her team while fighting for her life.

“No matter what kind of struggle she’s got going on, she makes sure that she’s here for us,” said Drake Pierson, a first-team All Big South Conference first baseman this year as a redshirt junior. “And we make sure that we are here for her.”

Gabby suffers from a life-threatening genetic disorder on Chromosome 22q, leading to multiple physical ailments including a severe form of epilepsy called myoclonic-astatic. While catching something as simple as the flu could be devastating, you wouldn’t know it by watching her cheer on her team.

“They’re always willing to do whatever is going to make her happy,” said her mother, Joann Ayala. “It means the world to us, just to give her a chance.”

The relationship dates back to a community service trip to the Miracle League of Johnston County. From the moment she laid eyes on the team in 2016, the connection clicked.

By the time the 2018 season rolled along, then freshman Ty Babin saw that splendid smile across the dugout and made sure to make Gabby feel at home.

“I tried to talk to her every game and whenever she was here with her family, spending as much time as I could with her, because it was really obvious to see how much she truly cared about Campbell baseball,” said Babin.

It’s not just lip service, either.

The players sign autographs for Gabby before every game, many of them say hello during the game in the on-deck circle or even on the field, and everyone makes sure to stick around after the game for any photo request Gabby wants.

“Honestly, I just try to put on a show for her,” said Pierson. ”She’s over there smiling and screaming for all of us to say hello, and it’s really nice to see her find happiness through us.”

Gabby’s voice echoes through Jim Perry Stadium. She knows every name on the Campbell roster and is keenly aware of when to cheer. And that unwavering support is deeply appreciate, according to Pierson.

“Whatever it is, whether you got a guy in scoring position or whatever, I’m going to get it done,” he said. “I want to make her smile, make her happy.”

That desire to make Gabby smile hit close to home for Babin. This past December, the fifth-year first-team All-Conference senior organized a Home Run Derby fundraiser at Jim Perry Stadium, raising more than $4,800 to help pay medical bills for the Ayala family.

“I’d like to believe these moments give her a drive to keep going and keep fighting because she does have a lot of illnesses, and we don’t know how long she has left,” said Joann.

While Gabby continues to deal with multiple life-threatening diseases, nothing is more sacred than time spent with her boys.

Following a series win on April 10, Babin and Pierson noticed Gabby watching kids run the bases from her usual perch by the visitors’ dugout. The players acted immediately, pushing Gabby around the bases so she could be a part of the action.

“They treat us like family,” said Elizabeth Ayala, Gabby’s older sister. “They take the time out of their day to talk to us and hang out with us, and it just feels like family.”

As Gabby rounded third base, rolling toward the plate in her wheelchair, fans in attendance stood in unison and cheered on the Camels’ biggest fan.

“It’s really important to me and our guys to make sure she can enjoy her life on a daily basis,” said Pierson. “If we have any small part in that, then then I want to contribute to that.”

Gabby’s latest miracle came from a phone call she received on Memorial Day. Campbell baseball earned a spot in the upcoming NCAA Regionals and the entire Ayala family was invited to watch the games in Knoxville, Tennessee as special guests of the team.

“Gabby was just so excited about the news, that’s all she would talk about,” said Joann. “We just really appreciate all the love that we get here from everybody.”

Expect to hear Gabby all weekend long in Knoxville repeating cheers the baseball program is accustomed to hearing close to home, every night at Jim Perry Stadium.