By Tim Kelly
Sebastian Hudak’s unlikely journey as a baseball player began with a note handed to him by a new friend at his new school.
It ended — for this season — with a spot on his league’s All-Star team and a run at the South Jersey championship.
Ten-year-old Sebastian has Noonan’s Syndrome, a rare genetic disorder which often manifests in a form of dwarfism. He relocated to Ocean City in 2017 from Riverton, Burlington County with parents Chuck and Kelly and six brothers and sisters. A seventh sibling, 10-month-old Clay, joined the brood a bit later.
Following a year of home schooling to better adjust to their new town, the school-aged Hudaks entered the OC public school system last September.
The usual “new kid” stigma did not affect Sebastian, whose nickname is “Sea Bass.”
“He never had problems making friends,” his mom said. “Sea Bass makes friends wherever he goes.”
Thus, it was unusual to hear that her son had bonded with Wyatt Tolson and his twin brother Graham. What was unusual was a note Sebastian handed her soon after he entered OC Primary School.
“It was the name and phone number of (the twins’) dad Dan, and an invitation to come out for the Ocean City-Upper Township fall baseball program.
“It was so ‘old school’ to receive a note like that and it was so Sebastian,” she said with a laugh.
He played with the “fall ball” program and this spring joined the “Padres” of the 10-and-under Ocean City Little League where he played for Coach Terry Clemens.
“What immediately stood out was Sebastian’s spirit, and how the other kids rallied behind him,” Clemens said. “He’s such an underdog as the smallest kid and so enthusiastic, it raised the level of play of all the kids. I honestly I didn’t know he had any kind of (physical challenge) until I saw him trying to run. He was hustling as hard as he could, but he wasn’t as fast as the other kids.”
“Then I spoke to his Dad and found out that he had Noonan’s Syndrome. Until then he was just the little guy trying harder than anyone.”
The Padres plowed through the regular season beating all comers and reached the championship game, where they finally lost.
“They really had an amazing season,” Kelly said.
Sebastian’s take: “I liked playing on that team. The best part was, we were really good!”
Sea Bass contributed to the Padres’ on the field, and not just as their inspiration. “He always played hard. He has a great glove,” his coach said. “Offensively, he gets the bat on the ball. The only area where (Noonan’s) affected his play was running the bases.”
Children growing up with Noonan’s syndrome can be affected by short stature, heart defects and other physical problems and developmental delays, according to the Mayo Clinic website.
In Sebastian’s case, a mild heart murmur shortly after birth developed into a larger problem with his heart valve and eventually, the Noonan’s diagnosis and open heart surgery. Since then, his symptoms have been managed well by his parents and doctors.
“His current height is four feet, two inches”, his mom said. His spirit is so big it can’t be measured, both coaches said, and none of the physical challenges has held Sebastian back.
“He comes from a great family,” Dan Tolson said. “They are very spiritual, and Sebastian certainly is a spirited boy. He was the spirit and the light of our team. That rubbed off on all of the other players.”
The other Hudaks are Fisher, 17; Mary, 15; Wade, 13; Charlie, 11; Poppy, 6; Ollie, 4; and baby Clay.
Following their son’s big season with the regular team, Kelly was surprised to receive an e-mail from Tolson, asking why there had been no response to his call for players interested in representing the league on the All-Star tournament team.
“(Sebastian) is exactly the kind of guy every team needs,” he said. He’s that kid who tries his hardest all the time, no matter what (the score might be),” Tolson said.
Kelly was stunned. “He really did well (in the regular season). But the All-Stars? We didn’t respond initially because we assumed he was not at that level.”
But when tourney play began there he was. Designated as a sub, Sea Bass came off the bench.
Sebastian Hudek is introduced before a recent Ocean City Little League All-Star tournament game.
In tournament play, Sebastian made his mark just as he did in the regular season, and again raised his team’s level of play. They went 2-1 in pool play to advance to the knockout round and reached the South Jersey semifinals before falling to Northfield.
Inserted in right field against Middle Township, Sebastian made a spectacular catch to help preserve an 8-6 victory. “It was the defensive play of the game,” Tolson said. “It pumped everybody up. They were so excited for their teammate.”
Ocean City Little League official Greg Donohue said inclusion is a big part of the league’s mission.
“We leave it up to the parents,” Donohue said. “If the parents think their child can benefit from participating, we make every effort we can to accommodate the opportunity to play baseball.”
No one would doubt Sebastian benefitted. Earlier in the regular season, the youngster made an unusual request of his coach.
“Sebastian told me ‘I want to pitch’ and we had the opportunity to put him out there on the mound,” Clemens said. “He did an outstanding job, pitching a scoreless inning.”
Soon after the season, the note-passing that started Sea Bass’s baseball career came full circle.
“I received a beautiful thank you note,” Clemens said. “Sebastian mentioned his stint pitching for us as one of the things he was thankful for.
“That’s the kind of kid he is.”