Stepping into the batter's box for a second round with cancer, baseball nut Dennis Barberio took his battle deep into extra innings.
26 Shirts is proud to be offering "Okpos-O's" for the next two weeks in order to help relieve the medical bills associated with Dennis' battle, and celebrate his life.
Diagnosed with leukemia in 2012, Dennis stepped to the plate and took his cuts. Through many rounds of chemotherapy, a blood transfusion, and finally a bone marrow transplant, there was relief when doctors told him his cancer was in remission.
After all, Dennis had been by his wife Jeanette's side in 2000 when she stood up to Stage IV lymphoma. The couple had made it through, and their family turned with excited eyes to their new leases on life.
Dennis loved to umpire baseball games. His favorite team wasn't the Cubs, or the Yankees, or the Red Sox, but his hometown Buffalo Bisons. If he wasn't calling balls and strikes, safe and out, he'd like nothing more than to sit in the stands at Coca Cola Field with his family and friends, or maintain his library of hockey cards.
"He wouldn't just umpire the game," said his daughter, Kristen Morello. "He'd coach the kids. If a kid was having trouble understanding or playing, he'd find a way. He was always willing to help."
Each summer, Dennis would take to the "barracks" in Cooperstown Dreams Park for 13 weeks of tournaments held so that every kid had the opportunity to play ball in baseball's legendary home.
"There's an opening ceremony, fireworks, skill competitions, and a small stadium for the championship game," said Sam Hunt, a fellow umpire and good friend of Dennis'. "It's a very well run organized tournament."
From early May to late August, Dennis would umpire a series of five-day tournaments for 104 teams, meaning over 1,300 teams of kids worked their way through the dirt and grass of Cooperstown under his watchful eye.
And that watchful eye could be a bit quirky, determined to have players and coaches learn new lessons about his beloved game.
"He was completely devoted to his family, but in terms of his baseball prowess, he had a little different approach to his umpiring," Hunt said. "Every pregame meeting Dennis ever did was different."
Kristen is currently taking classes to umpire, in order to live her father's legacy at Cooperstown.
"He was such a great role model. The qualities I saw in him, I looked for in a husband. He was just so amazing."
Even when his cancer returned in 2015, Dennis kept umpiring, heading back to Cooperstown in the summer. By 2016, the treatments were battering his body, and he decided enough was enough.
It was back to the home of baseball, one last time.
"He didn't want to go home," Morello says. "After all the games were done that last week in August, he stayed after everybody left. He was one of the last guys to leave, and sat on the bleachers and said, "Kristen, I just sobbed.' Cause he knew it was going to be the last time he'd be there."
In October 2016, Dennis was told he may not live through the holidays, but persevered through Thanksgiving, then Christmas and New Year's. In the Spring, he was told he had at least three good weeks ahead, and spent a memorable weekend at Great Wolf Lodge, splashing and swimming with his grandchildren.
Dennis had planned his entire funeral, and even left a list of back-up umpires for his family in case anyone called after he passed away, looking for someone to call a ball game.
"He was very thoughtful," Hunt said. "If you know him and he knew you, he treated you like a relative or cousin. Very down to Earth, never raised his voice to anyone, never used vulgarities. Just a good natured good person to know. He cared about people and was concerned about people."
After Dennis passed, peacefully and surrounded by family, there was one final baseball-themed celebration of his life.
"His pallbearers were his umpiring friends from Cooperstown," Kristen said. "He was buried in his Cooperstown umpiring uniform, and my nephew got dirt from the field and put that in his casket. He had his baseball gloves and everything baseball related. The lining in his casket was baseball. It was absolutely beautiful, and the song that played as we were leaving the funeral at my church was 'Take Me Out To The Ballgame,'."