Every team has that one special fan, the one that is there through the good, the bad and the ugly. The dedication from that person is more than just support, it's love. For the team, that specific individual is more than just a fan, they're family. Oral Roberts baseball has that fan, and his name is Gage McCool.
Twenty years ago, Gage and his twin brother Logan were born. Gage was born with cerebral palsy and during his youth, he played tee-ball with the Broken Arrow Challenger League. Gage's favorite sport is baseball and he and his father, James, have been season ticket holders to ORU baseball games since the 2005 season. Due to Gage's disability, he is now wheelchair bound, but that doesn't stop him from attending games. He and his dad attend all home games and even travel to watch postseason play. In 2006, they saw the Golden Eagles shock the nation at Arkansas and capture the regional to advance to the Super Regionals. They also have attended regional games in Wichita, Kansas, and Fort Worth, Texas.
Back when the McCool's first started attending ORU baseball games, they used to sit down the third-base line. During that time, now Head Coach Ryan Folmar was the third-base coach, and that is how Gage became a big fan of Folmar. Gage would attentively listen to Folmar coach at third base and tell players when to run or slide. Now, the McCool's sit on the first-base side above the ORU dugout. "You don't have to look up to know that he is there, you can hear Gage all the time," Folmar said. "He is very engaged and very knowledgeable about the game. But, it's a special connection and bond that we all share with Gage and James and I think it stems from their love of baseball. You can feel the energy when you talk to Gage about his love of the game. I think that was the beginning of the relationship with our team and it has grown from there."
Gage has become close to all of the baseball guys, but he's particularly close to sophomore pitcher Josh McMinn and junior catcher Matt Whatley. "You know when Gage is there," McMinn said. "Hearing him get excited when I get to go back out there for the seventh inning, when it's questionable if I will return, fires me up. Having fans like the McCool's, along with a lot of other things, makes me proud to wear ORU across my chest every day." Gage is a big fan of pitcher's duels in baseball. He prefers to watch strong pitching over hitting. "Even when I'm on the mound, I can hear Gage yelling for me," McMinn said. "He knows about the game and we have had talks about why I had to come out in the sixth inning instead of staying in. I have a ton of respect for Mr. McCool (James), for first of all getting season tickets for him and Gage, and second for even traveling to the regional last year. The McCool's are the best fans a player could ask for."
On May 27, 2017, the ORU baseball team captured its record 18th-consecutive Summit League Championship title. During the trophy presentation, each Golden Eagle player received a medal for their hard work. Catcher and team captain Matt Whatley decided he was going to give his medal to Gage for his dedication to the program. "I thought it was thoughtful and fitting," Folmar said. "Gage has been a great supporter all year long. He deserves that medal and I think if Matt hadn't given it to him somebody else would have. That is a direct reflection of our team and the culture we have in our program. We have an outstanding group of young men that care about people and it was great to see Matt reward Gage and his commitment to our program."
Through the years, Whatley has grown close to the McCool's and felt it was the right way to honor someone who has the same motivation and determination as anyone on the field. "Seeing Gage at the games is awesome," Whatley said. "He not only inspires us to be better ball players, but men as well. I hope Gage knows how much he not only means to me, but the entire team. He is a true inspiration to many." It was a special moment for Gage as he was hit with emotional tears of excitement. It was a sentimental time for the team to acknowledge Gage's longtime support for ORU baseball.
As postseason play begins for the ORU baseball program, the McCool's will follow the Golden Eagles to Fayetteville, Arkansas, to watch the team compete in the 2017 NCAA Fayetteville Regional.
The next time you visit J.L. Johnson Stadium in Tulsa, Oklahoma, during baseball season, look down the first-base line and you'll see Gage with his dad, James, taking in a game and supporting their beloved Golden Eagles.