In 2015, precocious 5-year-old Hailey Dawson won our hearts by throwing out the first pitch at a Baltimore Orioles game with her 3D-printed prosthetic hand.
The pitch one-hopped to her favorite player Manny Machado. This past June, the now 7-year-old Las Vegas girl tossed the first pitch at Nationals Park in Washington, D.C. to Bryce Harper, a fellow phenom from Las Vegas.
After the game in the car, Hailey asked, "What team am I throwing the pitch out for next?" her mother Yong Dawson recalls.
The family got to talking and wondered if anyone has thrown the ceremonial first pitch in every Major League park. Her brother Zach, who stood by her during both first pitches, discovered a man born without arms named Tom Willis, has used his foot to throw out the first pitch at 24 stadiums Hailey would need just 23 more to break the Guinness record. There are 30 teams overall.
Yong planned to spend all next summer writing to each team.
"I thought it was going to take years," Dawson says.
Instead it took hours.
Bleacher Report saw a picture of Hailey on Instagram and contacted the Dawson family to publicize the plan. The post went viral on Twitter and on Sep. 7 and by Friday afternoon, nearly every teams' official Twitter account invited Hailey to their ballpark.
She was born with the very rare Poland Syndrome, so the middle three digits on her right hand are underdeveloped. The 3D-printed Flexy-Hand 2 slides over her hand like a glove, and various wrist movements can control her robotic fingers via fishing line.
The team used a Stratasys Fortus 250MC 3D printer, as well as a Lulzbot Taz 3D-printer. Normally, a prosthetic of this caliber would cost $20,000. And normally a child wouldn’t get one until they stop growing.
"To make this in a traditional manufacturing method would never be economical, since almost every one of these hands has to be customized a little bit to be useful," says UNLVprofessor Brendan O'Toole, who led the project. "To print the whole new hand and components was probably under $200 in material costs."
Hailey has at least six different prosthetics to choose from, including the Orioles and Nationals versions, according to her mood and clothes. Yong expects each team would want a new hand printed with their colors and logo, giving Hailey plenty of options to choose from.
While the second-grader doesn't wear the hand every day, or need it for school work, her mother says she notices a difference when she does.
"When she puts it on, you can see the difference in her confidence," Yong explains. "Socially it makes her feel better about herself. This just enhances what she has."
That's the same reason the non-profit Limbitless Solutions teamed with Robert Downey Jr. and Microsoft in 2015 to provide a 7-year-old boy with an Iron Man-themed bionic arm.
For her part, Hailey has also been a hero in the prosthetic community. Her story has led UNLV to help another girl get a 3D-printed hand, and the new viral story will only provide a brighter spotlight on 3D-printed prosthetics, helping to make them more available to anyone who needs one. And though Yong tries to tell her how much she's inspiring others, Hailey still doesn't quite get why so many people think she's such a big league idol.
"I'm just being me," Hailey responds.
We can only hope that, as her 3D-printed hand grows in size and sophistication, Hailey's attitude stays exactly the same.