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TCU hasn't forgotten Micah Ahern

OMAHA, Neb. -- A locker in the clubhouse at TCU's Lupton Stadium belongs to 7-year-old Micah Ahern. When he made it to the park over the past three seasons, between innumerable doctor visits and stays at Cook Children's Medical Center in Fort Worth, Texas, Micah dressed in his Horned Frogs' gear. He grabbed a snack or a Gatorade and sat in the dugout alongside his teammates.

"Assuming he's not going to have that opportunity in the future," Micah's mother, Linda, said Friday, "he's living out his dream now."

Since the TCU players and coaches met Micah in the fall of 2013 -- a few months after he suffered a relapse of neuroblastoma, the form of cancer with which Micah was originally diagnosed at 15 months old in August 2010 -- coach Jim Schlossnagle's team has won 146 of 195 games and captured the school's first Big 12 tournament and regular-season titles.

Sunday at TD Ameritrade Park, TCU opens play in the College World Series against Texas Tech (3 p.m. ET, ESPNU).

The Horned Frogs are the only team among the field of eight back in Omaha for a third straight season. Before the program adopted Micah, TCU had appeared just once at the CWS.

"He's part of it," Schlossnagle said. "The No. 1 thing he brings us is perspective. We all need it, regardless of your stage in life. There are many times we talk about Micah. I think it helps our guys play more free, because they've learned there's more to life than a baseball game.

"But we didn't get involved in this relationship to help us. We got involved to help him to brighten his day and make him feel a part of something. Anything we can do to make him smile, we try to do."

Less than two weeks ago, Linda posted on Facebook that Micah's cancer had progressed. After more than 10 operations and years of attempts to control the disease, he discontinued antibody treatment and chemotherapy to enjoy "his remaining days with his family" before entering hospice soon.

"I think about it every day," TCU pitcher Mitchell Traver said. "I pray for him every day. I pray for his family every day."

Linda and Maurice Ahern, with children Grace, 15, Nolan, 8, Micah, and 5-year-old Eden Tate, were to return home to Arlington, Texas, on Saturday after a drive to Florida for time at the beach in Destin and visits to Sea World, Discovery Cove and Walt Disney World.

Micah received VIP treatment at every stop.

Their next trip? Omaha. Linda said she plans bring Micah to see the Horned Frogs at the CWS for TCU's second game on Tuesday.

Micah was originally matched with TCU in 2013 through Team IMPACT. The organization pairs children who face chronic and life-threatening illnesses with college programs. Schlossnagle said he heard of the possibility while in Japan that summer as a coach for Team USA.

Right away, he was interested.

"Getting to know him has been such a blessing for me," TCU catcher Evan Skoug said. "He's taught me so much. He's the strongest little guy I've ever met. They say that God gives his toughest battles to his strongest soldiers. It's true.

"Seeing him come to the ballpark, it's nothing but pure joy, no matter what he's going through off the field. He teaches us something every time we see him."

Linda said the TCU players and coaches have provided "a lot more meaning" to Micah's life.

"What Coach Schlossnagle has done for Micah," she said, "is give him another piece to his life that has nothing to do with cancer and everything to do with living like a normal little boy, which is something Micah never gets to do.

"It's not only about cancer and pain and the hospital. This is something for him to look forward to. They are men of integrity. They care about Micah."

TCU signed Micah to an honorary scholarship in 2014. The school announced Wednesday that it had created an actual scholarship in Micah's name, to be awarded annually to a baseball player who embodies his toughness, courage and resilience.

"It means the world to me," Schlossnagle said, "because he is literally a member of this current team. He's a member of our program. Regardless of what happens down the road, we want players 10 years from now to know what he's all about."

Along their journeys to Omaha over the past three years, Traver said the Horned Frogs, after struggles on the diamond, often think of Micah and ask an introspective question.

Compared to what?

"If we've had a tough day or drop a series, it's, 'Hey, by the way, Micah's going to try proton radiation this week,'" Traver said. "His mantra is, 'Never, ever give up.' How he's displayed that and what he's walked through, it's made us better men. It's helped us play better baseball.

"He affects us in so many ways that go beyond baseball, that baseball becomes a small thing. It's a lot more simple."

The Frogs hang a "Superhero Micah" jersey in their dugout and wear a patch to honor him on their hats. Skoug pays homage to Micah with the tape on his left wrist. And last week, in TCU's super regional series win at No. 4 national seed Texas A&M, the catcher scrawled Micah's name in the dirt behind home plate.

"I felt led to do it," said Skoug, a sophomore from Libertyville, Illinois, who has grown close to Micah this year. "He's had a rough patch. I took it hard. I took it to heart. If he can see his name on national TV or know that we're thinking about him, maybe that can help him smile."

No matter his condition or distance from the Horned Frogs, Linda assured, Micah is watching.