As dusk fell on a Saturday in late June, thousands of fans waved the flashlights on their cellphones inside Dodger Stadium. The organist played "The Legend of Zelda" theme song as Dodgers manager Dave Roberts walked out of the dugout and toward the owner's seats behind home plate.
It was the middle of the sixth inning; Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw had just thrown his 103rd pitch, holding a 4-0 lead over the visiting Rockies. Roberts leaned over the waist-high gate and motioned for his co-manager, 11-year-old Lazaro "Ziggy" Monarrez. Using the hand controls of his motorized wheelchair, Ziggy moved his chair forward several feet, passing former Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda and two security guards.
"I'm thinking of taking Kershaw out now. What do you think?" Roberts asked Ziggy.
"Yeah," Ziggy replied.
"We're gonna go to [Brandon] Morrow, to [Pedro] Baez, to [Kenley] Jansen, OK?" Roberts said. "And we're gonna win. All right, Skip?" (Actual order was Morrow, Baez, then Sergio Romo.)
"Yes," Ziggy said.
The pitching change worked within Ziggy's lineup, which he had stored in his cellphone. He had started working on the lineup a week ago and had subsequently shuffled his batting order several times. Ziggy knew that Kershaw, his all-time favorite player, would start. Still, he had determined minutes before the impromptu managers' meeting that the former National League MVP, who had struck out eight batters through six innings, might need to come out of the game.
"You really are the co-manager, aren't you?" said his mother, Araceli, as they settled in to watch Franklin Gutierrez pinch hit for Kershaw.
Ziggy's job as co-manager had started at 2:25 p.m. as he arrived outside of Lot D at Dodger Stadium. Along with his mother, his sister, Alex, and his grandma, Esther Gomez, he had flown from their home in El Paso to Los Angeles courtesy of the Make-A-Wish Foundation, a nonprofit that grants wishes to children with life-threatening conditions.
Months earlier, Ziggy had narrowed his potential wish to two choices: manage his beloved Dodgers or visit a couple of the world's largest and most powerful telescopes in Mauna Kea, Hawaii. Ziggy hopes to work as a NASA astrophysicist one day, so the telescope viewing was tempting.
Ultimately, though, Ziggy chose his first love, the Dodgers. And L.A. was thankful -- under his co-tutelage, the team held on to that 4-0 lead and became the first NL team to reach 50 wins.
"This is our year," Ziggy said throughout the night. "Our year to win it all."
When Ziggy was about 8 months old, Araceli noticed that her son couldn't stand up, even with assistance, and that his hands often shook. A physical therapist, Araceli had tracked his growth closely, ensuring he checked off the major milestones.
When she told the doctor at Ziggy's 12-month checkup, the doctor examined Ziggy's tongue. It was trembling as well. The pediatrician ordered several blood tests, which confirmed what he already hypothesized: Ziggy had spinal muscular atrophy, a genetic disorder affecting the control of muscle movement.
One in every 6,000 to 10,000 people in the U.S. develop SMA. There are four main types of SMA; Ziggy has Type 2, characterized by muscle weakness and a life expectancy of 50 to 70 years. Children with Type 2 SMA can't walk or stand without assistance, though they can usually sit unaided and feed themselves. Ziggy has never been able to walk (he now has a wheelchair that can expand to a standing position), but it hasn't stopped him from pursuing his love of baseball.
"It was hard that he wasn't going to be able to walk and play baseball because that was one of the things we all did," Araceli says. "I played softball in high school and Alex was playing T-ball. But once we processed that, you look at the positive side. He's going to be able to tell us his wants, his needs. He's a smart boy, and that's typical for kids with [Type 2] SMA. When he was little, I noticed he would pick up on things very quickly, and I thought, maybe it's because when all the other kids are exploring their world -- crawling and walking and these other things -- what is Ziggy doing? He's learning. He's observing."
Ziggy also smiled and laughed a lot. He is the family jokester, even poking fun at the fact that he can't walk. He loves playing video games, especially "Call of Duty 3" and "Minecraft." Math is his favorite school subject; he just cruised through pre-algebra. He loves to study space as often as he can. And, of course, he follows the Dodgers daily, analyzing stats, players and trades with his father and watching games on his phone.
While Ziggy enjoys school, he has to study at home from December through March to avoid catching the flu. His weaker muscles mean he can't cough and clear his lungs as effectively, so pneumonia is one of his biggest risk factors. Otherwise, his daily routine starts a lot like other kids: He brushes his teeth and feeds himself, but he needs help getting dressed. Unlike most kids, every few hours throughout the day, he needs to be stretched, and Ziggy also needs to stand or lie down every two hours.
"Look at that, Ziggy!" Araceli said, as they arrived at Roberts' office before the game. A nameplate on the door, printed in blue ink, read, 'LAZARO "ZIGGY" MONARREZ, CO-MANAGER, Los Angeles Dodgers."
"Is this my co-manager?" Roberts asked. "Come on in."
After Roberts met Ziggy's family, the duo settled down to business.
"I hope your lineup has No. 22 pitching tonight," Roberts said. "Let's see what we got."
Ziggy read his lineup from his phone as Roberts nodded along: Chase Utley at second, [Joc] Pederson in center, Yasiel Puig in right. At his mention of [Franklin] Gutierrez in left, Roberts paused. "We're going to have to talk about that one; we'll debate, because that's what co-managers do," Roberts said.
After finalizing the lineup, Roberts handed Ziggy a new Dodgers jersey. 'ZIGGY' was printed in big letters on the back, above the No. 22.
"That's awesome," Ziggy said.
Ziggy shadowed Roberts in the team dining room -- where he met Kershaw briefly -- the bullpen, the weight room and batting cages. Then they headed to the field for Dodgers BP, where he and his family met Andre Ethier (Araceli's favorite player), Puig, Baez and former-Dodger-turned-announcer Fernando Valenzuela, aka El Toro.
Just before game time, Ziggy went onto the field alongside Roberts to exchange lineup cards and meet the officiating crew. As the national anthem began, sung by actress Holly Robinson Peete, Ziggy sat at attention on the third-base line, hat in hand across his chest. His image flashed on the screen as Peete sang the lyrics, "home of the brave."
When the moment arrived for the famous Vin Scully opening line, Ziggy sat atop home plate, microphone in hand. "It's time for Dodger baseball!" he yelled as the crowd cheered.
Ziggy and his family sat in the third row behind home plate, one row up from Lasorda. Ziggy paid close attention throughout the game, filming slow-motion videos of the Dodgers' offense and of Kershaw's pitches. "His pitch count is pretty high, but he's still doing well," Ziggy observed of Kershaw in the middle of the fourth inning.
In the bottom of the fifth, when asked about the day thus far, Ziggy looked around. "This is the all-time No. 1 coolest thing that I've done," Ziggy said. "The only thing that could top this is if pigs flew and it started raining bananas."
As "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" finished in the seventh inning, Lasorda exited the ballpark, stopping to say goodbye to Ziggy. "See you soon, and remember, the Dodgers -- that's your team," Lasorda said. "You're doing a great job."
During the eighth inning, Ziggy and his family entered a guest room below the stadium and the Dodgers media staff said there was another surprise. As they sat, waiting, Kershaw walked in, his left arm wrapped with bandages and ice packs after pitching.
"What's up, man? How you doin'?" Kershaw said, as Ziggy grinned back. The two talked about Texas life [Kershaw is a Dallas native], the Dodgers and pitching mechanics.
"Do you have any questions for me?" Kershaw asked Ziggy.
"How do you throw your 12-6 curve?"
Kershaw walked Ziggy through the delivery, showing him where to place his middle finger on the ball. "And then you just let it go, like you're shakin' somebody's hand," Kershaw said. "It's that simple."
The two made plans to catch up in Dallas in the fall, where Ziggy has twice-a-year appointments at the Children's Hospital. Kershaw left and Ziggy and his family returned to their seats to watch the game's final innings.
As he waited near the dugout to join the postgame high-five line, a Dogers media representative gave Ziggy instructions. "Wait along the third base line, and we'll let you know when to go," she said. But as soon as the players walked toward each other, Ziggy sped onto the field, a huge grin on his face. "Nice job, Skip. You're 1-0!" Roberts said as he high-fived Ziggy. Ziggy greeted each player with high-fives and handshakes as he moved down the line.
"Ever since he was little, he's always been a very positive, happy kid," Araceli says. "When he was younger, he'd talk about all the things he wanted to do, and even though he can't walk and he can't do things on his own, he's always had that positive attitude -- and it's contagious."
After the players had cleared the field, Ziggy remained, sitting near home plate. He was exhausted and sore, but he wasn't ready to leave. He maneuvered his chair, slowly, taking a full 360-degree turn and gazing at the sky, the stands and the field.
"When Ziggy was little, he told us that he wanted to be a manager for the Dodgers one day," Araceli said afterward. "Doing this -- it wasn't just a wish that he asked for from Make-A-Wish, it was also a lifetime wish. I think this has created more confidence in him that he really can do anything that he wants to do -- that his wishes could come true."