Gina & Fernando: an autograph story
Chances are good that you’re one of the more than 800,000 people who have seen the video that the Padres tweeted last month of Fernando Tatís Jr. giving a unique autograph at Spring Training in Peoria, Arizona.
Meet Gina Grosso
Gina is a 35-year old children’s speech pathologist with a boyfriend named Jesse and a cat named Gordon. They live in Hillcrest.
Gina has been battling breast cancer for two years and resumed chemotherapy treatment just days after returning home from Peoria.
She says the reaction to the autograph video has been “like nothing I could have imagined.” In addition to raising awareness in media interviews, Gina decided to start a GoFundMe campaign to benefit several charities and raise awareness about cancer.
“The wheels in my head have not stopped turning, and I’m working on a way to keep this momentum going and maybe, just maybe, do more to spread the hope I’m lucky I keep being able to find.”
She grew up in Paradise, California, which was all but lost to a wildfire in 2018, including her family’s home of more than 30 years.
Her roots as a Padres fan run deep and strong.
“My dad was born & raised in San Diego and remembers seeing the Padres play when they were a minor league team.
I love baseball because I love my dad.
And even though this team has brought a lot of stress to his life with wins & losses, I learned from an early age if dad was yelling at the TV, it was best to play outside until the game was over.
I love how he passionately is a diehard, never-wavering Padres fan.
He listens to the game on the radio while watching it sitting in Petco, and I think it is adorable.”
Gina’s desire for her favorite player’s autograph actually started a year ago during her and Jesse’s 2019 trip to Peoria. With a full head of hair, she was among many fans who hoped for a signed ball from one of MLB’s most exciting young players.
“We were unsuccessful in gaining Tatís’s signature at last year’s Spring Training so really all I was thinking was maybe this time [with her bald head] we would get his attention!”
Jesse, a season ticket holder, encouraged her to take her sign to the dugout wall before Friday’s night game against the Cubs. Several volunteers at the Peoria Sports Complex offered advice and assistance. From there, it all fell into place as Tatís walked over to her. The next moments became surreal.
“His smile is so contagious, and I realized I hadn’t prepared anything to say to him.
But I didn’t need to because he is so warm and engaging.
Thank goodness for video so I can see what I said!
I really do plan on never being bald again, and chemo sucks so at least I got those two honest points out in my extreme excitement!”
As they returned to their seats, Gina was overwhelmed with adrenaline and emotions. She felt excitement and gratitude but also fear. At one point, she turned to Jesse and said “I don’t want to die.” He laughed a surprised giggle before realizing that she was being serious, then hugged her as her eyes filled with tears.
“Losing your hair to chemo is a defeating, helpless feeling. Most of cancer is. You make choices controlled by a disease scarier that you can imagine no matter what stage you are at.
There is never a time when fear isn’t a part of your day-to-day.
But also, under all that fear and unknown I keep finding hope. Even when you have to make it yourself sometimes.”
As they left the ballpark, another fan stopped Gina to ask if he could give her a side hug and shared that he was a seven-year cancer survivor. He was the first of many to express admiration for what Gina did that night.
I asked Gina what her biggest “takeaway” was from the experience in Peoria.
“Keep doing the things you love even during hard times.
It is really easy to get lost in the overwhelming fear and scariness of cancer, and I have a tendency to be such a rule-follower that I almost didn’t want to go on the trip during chemo out of fear.
Pushing myself on the good days to keep living life and doing silly things to get a much-needed laugh – and an amazing memory like getting your bald head signed – is how I keep reminding myself what I’m fighting to live for through all of this.”