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One in a million

Madison Heldt, the Hillsboro Hops' only bat girl, suffers from an extremely rare medical condition


She is hard to miss, for those who are paying attention — one girl on a baseball diamond full of men.

Madison Heldt is a bat girl, the one and only actually, for the Hillsboro Hops. Not a bad first job for a teenager.by: HILLSBORO TRIBUNE PHOTO: CHASE ALLGOOD - Madison Heldt retrieves a bat from home plate during a Hillsboro Hops game. Heldt has a rare medical condition called lipoprotein lipase deficiency, which requires lifelong treatment.

But Madison is rare in more ways than one. In fact, she is one in a million.

When Madison, now 16, was about 6 years old, her family learned that she had lipoprotein lipase deficiency. Basically, those with the disorder do not produce the enzyme lipoprotein lipase, which breaks down the fat in food. As a result, fat particles build up in the blood. Those affected by the deficiency may experience, among other difficulties, abdominal pain and pancreatitis, an inflammation of the pancreas.

The estimated prevalence rate of the disorder — which she shares with her father, Steve, and brother, Jacob — is one in a million people. The deficiency requires Madison to eat a low-fat diet, and she has endured several stints in the hospital, including a long stay of 49 days during her freshman year at Century High School due to a bout of pancreatitis.

The uncommon disorder does not define this uncommon girl, though, whose hardships have motivated her to help others. Last holiday season, she organized and carried out a sizeable coloring book and crayon drive for Doernbecher Children’s Hospital in Portland. The drive netted 1,500 books and 1,500 crayon sets, as well as some toys and cash, to go to kids like her, who have to spend some time in the hospital.

In other ways, though, Madison is like any other teenager. This summer, she has been doing what many kids her age do on vacation, which is get some working world experience. Her job just happens to be cooler than most among those in her age demographic.

“Just getting to know some of the players and getting to know some of the coaches,” is what Madison, a former softball player, said she enjoys about her position. “It’s just kind of fun to get to know them.”

But for Madison, it is not completely all fun and games at Hillsboro Ballpark. A lot goes into being a bat girl. On the days that she works — the team has a total of eight bat kids, so they don’t all work every game — Madison shows up about 90 minutes before first pitch. She prepares water and sports drink for both dugouts and bullpens. Field preparations are next, and then she hauls out the water and sports drink containers. Pregame responsibilities may also include laundry duty, such as folding towels.

At that point, Madison is just getting started. During games, she gives balls to the umpires, retrieves bats and foul balls, checks the condition of baseballs and makes sure the umpires stay hydrated by supplying liquids.

Postgame duties include cleaning up the dugouts and bullpens and making sure items are properly put away. Typically, the visitors bullpen is less tidy than the home side at the end of games, but the opposite is true of the dugouts, Madison noted.

“The last few games she’s really been taking the lead as far as running the baseballs out to the umpire and making sure that he’s got enough to drink and some towels to wipe the sweat off,” said Juan Huitron, the Hops’ director of ballpark operations and Madison’s boss. “She’s gotten the hang of it. It’s been awesome to see.”

By working in the dugouts, Madison gets to spend time in close proximity with the players and coaches. Before a game she worked last week, she said, Hops hitting coach J.R. House asked if she was going to be the team’s good luck charm. And she recently got a hug from Yogey Perez-Ramos, the Hops’ star hitter and her favorite player on the team.

“From the first game, he’s always talked to me during the game and gotten to know me,” Madison noted. “And then, he’s gotten some of their really good hits and has helped the Hops a bunch.”

Like any teenager earning her own money, Madison has put her paychecks to good use. Her goal, she said, was to purchase an iPhone 5S by her birthday, which was Aug. 3. A little more than a week after that, during the interview for this story, she showed off the phone, encased in a black and lime green skin.

Along the way, she also acquired a new nickname. On the back of the bat kids’ uniforms, big block letters read “BB,” which stands for bat boy. Obviously, “BG” would better suit Madison, a petite, blonde-haired girl. But Hillsboro city councilman Steve Callaway, who is a Hops season ticket holder, devised a solution. He calls her “the bat babe,” mom Karen Heldt said.

Madison’s presence at Hops games has not gone unnoticed. At least one of her parents attends every game she works, and they often tell other fans that Madison, the bat girl, is their daughter.

“We always brag. We tell people, ‘That’s our bat girl down there, that’s our daughter,’” Karen said. “And then people cheer for her. It’s really cool.”

Madison’s last day in uniform is next Thursday, for the penultimate home game of the season. She has been around to see the shift in the Hops’ fortunes. The team struggled to an 11-27 first-half record but has been playing much better of late, going 15-11 in the second half through Tuesday.

She prefers it that way.

“The dugouts, they’re really depressing when the Hops are losing,” Madison said. “But then, they’re winning. When they scored runs (in a 2-0 win against Salem-Keizer on Aug. 14), they were jumping up and down in the dugout. One of the new players, he was dancing. The dugouts are more fun when they’re winning.”

This job has been important for Hillsboro’s bat girl, and not just because it is her first job. She had gotten out of the hospital just a few days before her orientation for the position and was still sporting the bruises caused by a central line that had been put in her arm.

“That was like (her) reason that (she) really wanted to get better and get out,” Karen said.

The disorder will require lifelong management. The family did not know that Steve even had it until after Madison became ill while on a family cruise. After she was diagnosed, testing revealed that Steve and Jacob also carry the disorder.

“We never want it to define who the kids are,” Karen said. “We just want them to just go out and just do all the great things ... because so much has been given to them.”

A few days after her last game, Madison will start her junior year at Century. Her goal is to one day attend Linfield College — her mom’s alma mater — and become a pediatric nurse. She still has a couple of summers before she heads off to college, though, so working some nights at Hillsboro Ballpark might still be in her future.

“I really like this job,” she said, “but I’m hoping to work for them again next year.”

The odds of that are likely far better than one in a million.



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