Some kids are starting school or learning to read or write well at 4 years old.
Joey Balawajder had a different experience. He was fighting for his life.
Balawajder was diagnosed with muscle cancer when he was four. Over the next two years, the Loyalsock third baseman received chemotherapy treatments and experienced pain and illness that can knock anyone out, let alone a young child.
Joey Balawajder started at third base this year for Loyalsock’s repeat PIAA?Class AA?champion baseball team.
But there Balawajder was Friday at Penn State's Medlar Field at Lubrano Park celebrating a Class AA state championship win. Balawajder helped produce that 5-1 victory over Central, hitting and fielding well like he has all season. He experienced his finest athletic moment Friday, winning a state title for a first time.
But Balawajder long ago earned his biggest win. He is a state champion, but Balawajder's greatest label is cancer survivor.
"To be able to do this, it's like a Hollywood-ending," Balawajder said. "It's humbling. It's unbelievable."
Many people start remembering their lives around age 4. They remember certain moments, but Balawajder would rather forget his. His earliest memories are being sick, going through rigorous treatment and never knowing if the next day was guaranteed.
That really made Balawajder who he is today. Simply put, he is a fighter and good luck holding him down.
"He told us there's nothing like it (cancer)," pitcher Kyle Datres said. "He fought through that so he can fight through anything."
Balawajder hit .420 this season and offered Loyalsock a little bit of everything. Most important, he provided perspective. The Lancers experienced hard times earlier this season, losing five of 10 games and dropping to 8-5 at one point.
Injuries and other issues were ravaging the team, but Loyalsock pulled together. Balawajder was one that never lost hope and the Lancers never lost again. Win or lose, Balawajder knew he was blessed and that feeling seemed to flow to his teammates.
He knows as well as anyone how important it is to cash in on opportunities. Loyalsock did just that, becoming just the third program in state history to repeat as Class AA champions.
"It puts everything into perspective," Balawajder said. "You can't take moments like this for granted at all. You have to seize it."
When Loyalsock captured last year's state championship, Balawajder was playing outfield for South Williamsport. He moved this offseason and became a huge key for a former rival. Again, his tenacity paid huge dividends.
Loyalsock returned eight starters from last year's champion and Nick DiFrancesco returned from injury to give the Lancers their starting nine. Robbie Klein, a 2013 all-state outfielder, was unable to start the season, though. Then first baseman/pitcher Luke Glavin went down.
Suddenly, Loyalsock needed Balawajder in a big way. Suddenly, Balawajder pounced on his chance. All he did since working his way into the starting lineup is hit .420 with six doubles, 11 RBIs and 25 runs scored. He also stole 10 bases and displayed his versatility, first playing in the outfield and then moving to third base.
"Joey had a huge season for us,"right fielder Jimmy Webb said. "When we were struggling he was our catalyst and was hitting the ball all over the place."
Balawajder provided a glimpse of what was to come early in the season. Playing against two-time defending Class AAA champion West York, Balawajder went 4 for 4. A lineup desperate for a jump-start had a new run producer.
Balawajder never really stopped hitting either. He was one of the team's most consistent players and delivered repeatedly throughout the postseason. Whatever Loyalsock needed, Balawajder provided and Friday he dropped a perfect squeeze bunt for an RBI single that made it 3-1 and finished 1 for 2 while reaching base twice.
"Not to take away from Joey, but if you would have told me he would be in the lineup at the beginning of the year I would have said, no. Things happen for a reason and with Robbie Klein and Luke Glavin going down he stepped up and got it done," Loyalsock coach Jeremy Eck said. "The West York game was a turning point for him and it was nice to have him come over and contribute for us."
Balawajder drove in two runs in Loyalsock's first-round state win over Bald Eagle Area and delivered bunt singles the last two games that were part of game-changing rallies. When the games were the biggest, the team's least experienced starter came up big.
Just as important, Balawajder only strengthened the team's chemistry. Coming to a team that had so many starters coming back is not easy. It also is not easy helping replace players like Klein, Glavin and Ethan Moore, who graduated, but Balawajder delivered.
Loyalsock is a state champion again and Balawajder is a big reason why.
"He's huge. He played a great third base for us," first baseman Tommy Baggett said. "At the beginning of the year he was absolutely on fire. He still hit well throughout the year, and it seems like he's been playing with us his whole life. He just fit in real well with us and we consider him one of our brothers."
Loyalsock fought hard all year, defying the odds to win another state championship. And on a team of fighters, Balawajder might be the ultimate fighter. After 10 years, Balawajder no longer has to go for yearly checkups. He is stronger than ever and feeling better than ever.
He knows every day truly is a blessing, especially ones like Friday.
"I'll take the day and let it all sink in," Balawajder said. "This is something you can't take for granted. You get to experience something like and it's just great."