Clackamas grad Aaron Ahlstrom starts his Make-A-Wish experience at Hops game

by: HILLSBORO TRIBUNE PHOTO: AMANDA MILES - Ahlstrom throws the first pitch at last Thursdays Hillsboro Hops game. He kicked off his Make-A-Wish experience with a trip to the Hops game before heading to New York to watch the Yankees.Doug Ahlstrom’s recall is precise and immediate.

“I know the exact date — Oct. 5,” said Ahlstrom, a Happy Valley resident, about the day his family’s life changed in an instant.

That day, his son Aaron, 17 at the time and a month into his senior year at Clackamas High School, was fielding ground balls at a University of Oregon baseball scouting event.

Leading up to that day, Aaron had experienced some strange symptoms and sensations, but they came in extreme conditions — the humidity of Omaha, Neb., the cold waters of the Deschutes River.

Not so this time.

“The worst happened,” Aaron recalled last week while standing off the first base line at Ron Tonkin Field. “I had a seizure on the field, and that indicated that I had a tumor.”

In no small part because of that terrible event, Aaron has been creating baseball memories of a different sort over the past week. As a Make-A-Wish recipient, he kicked off his wish last Thursday by throwing out the first pitch at a Hillsboro Hops game. His family then moved on from there to New York, where the Ahlstroms would tour Yankee Stadium and meet some of the Yankees players.

That is a big week for any baseball-loving young man. It was big week for Make-A-Wish Oregon, the local chapter serving Oregon and Southwest Washington, as well, as Aaron is the 31-year-old chapter’s 3,000th wish recipient.

To commemorate the milestone, Aaron wore a white Hops jersey at the game with his last name and the number 3,000 screened in blue on the back.

“We knew that he was going to be our 3,000th wish, and we wanted to make it something special for him,” said Tracey Lam, the chapter’s public relations and communications manager. “Throwing out the first pitch is just a really fun way to celebrate his wish, his battle with cancer, his graduating high school as a star athlete and then also a milestone for the Oregon chapter. It was a great way to tie everything together.”by: HILLSBORO TRIBUNE PHOTO: AMANDA MILES - Aaron Ahlstron (in Hops jersey) is greeted by Clackamas teammates and coaches on the field before he throws out the first pitch at last Thursdays Hillsboro Hops game. Ahlstrom, 18, a recent Clackamas High School graduate, is battling brain cancer.

After Aaron experienced his seizure, he was taken to a local hospital for an MRI, which Doug said indicated his son had a lesion on his brain. Doug then drove him to Doernbecher Children’s Hospital in Southwest Portland, which is where Aaron received his treatment.

“It hits you like a ton of bricks,” Doug said.

Aaron underwent radiation and oral chemotherapy — in fact, he is on a regimen of chemotherapy pills five times per month for another six months.

“Knock on wood, the side effects have not been what you would think. He’s a strong kid,” Doug said of his son, who also played soccer and basketball for the Cavaliers. “He’s a fantastic athlete in great shape, and I think that has something to do with it.”

Because of Aaron’s age — he turned 18 last Halloween — his doctors at Doernbecher ushered him quickly into the Make-A-Wish process, as the organization grants wishes to children age 2½ to 17 with life-threatening medical conditions.

And that brought Aaron to last Thursday, when he rolled up to the ball park in a limousine and then toured a portion of the Hops facility before the game. He met with team manager J.R. House and hitting coach Mark Grace, a former three-time MLB all-star who told Aaron to tell Derek Jeter — the player Aaron most hoped to meet in New York — that he enjoyed meeting Grace more than Jeter.

Before the game, House and Aaron chatted in the Hops batting cages while the two played catch to warm Aaron up for his big pitch.

Then it was time to head out to the mound.

Before the pitch, the public address announcer introduced Aaron to the crowd, and then his Clackamas teammates and coaches came out onto the field to surround him as he threw out the pitch. That came as a bit of a surprise, as Aaron knew they were coming to the game — but not that they would be joining him on the field.

Aaron, who remarkably missed just one game and earned second team all-Three Rivers League honors as an infielder this past spring, had no trouble getting his pitch to the Hops’ Justin Gonzalez — from one infielder to another.

Afterward, he posed for pictures and spoke with members of the media before enjoying the game with family and friends.

“It’s really cool,” he said. “I’m really thankful for everybody that’s helped me out with this and gave me this opportunity to come out here and have fun.”

Recent Clackamas graduate Aaron Ahlstrom is the 3,000th recipient of a wish through the Make-A-Wish Oregon chapter. He started his wish experience last Thursday at Ron Tonkin Field, where he toured the Hillsboro Hops facility and threw out the first pitch before a game against the Tri-City Dust Devils.  On Sunday, Aaron flew to New York — someplace he had never been before — with his mother, Suzanne, as well as with his father and 14-year-old brother Ryan. The Ahlstroms were scheduled to meet some of the team and also to take a tour of Yankee Stadium before Monday’s game against the Rangers. Other stops on the itinerary were the Empire State Building and the Statue of Liberty before a flight home on Thursday.

And now Aaron keeps moving forward. He said his goal is to “just live a normal life and not have to worry about my health as much. Just be normal. That’s my next move.”

Here’s wishing to that.

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