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‘He is my hero:’ Girl honors father on Cincinnati Reds’ first Lou Gehrig Day

A picture is worth a thousand words. Varen Rogers’ sign for her father meant much more than that.
Published: Jul. 13, 2021 at 9:42 PM EDT
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CINCINNATI (WXIX) - It could easily be the story of the year for the 2021 Cincinnati Reds―not chasing down the division lead, nor two players sent to the All-Star game, but a moment one 10-year-old girl and her father will remember for the rest of their lives.

And it might not have happened but for MLB’s inaugural Lou Gehrig Day, a league-wide effort to bring awareness to ALS―“Lou Gehrig’s disease”―which cut short the life of its namesake.

For the Reds, Lou Gherig Day came on June 7 during a makeup game against the Philadelphia Phillies. The Rogers family wouldn’t have missed it.

Two years ago, Justin Rogers was a healthy husband and father―a coach too, and an athlete himself, with a job that took him around the world. Then at 35, Justin was diagnosed with ALS.

“The sad thing about ALS,” said wife Stacy Rogers, “is that 80 years after Lou Gehrig died of it, Justin has no more chance of surviving it than [he] did.”

Since his diagnosis, Justin has lost the use of his hands and upper body, and he can’t speak clearly. But he hasn’t lost his love for his family, nor has his family lost their love for him.

Justin’s daughter, Varen Rogers wanted to embellish the point, so with money from her 10th birthday, she decided to buy a sign that reads: “My dad has ALS. He is my Hero. I love you dad.”

It arrived the day of the Reds game on June 7, which the family attended together.

Varen Rogers
Varen Rogers(Provided by family)

The Reds made Varen an honorary captain and gave Justin a front-row seat to the action, including a Nick Castellanos grand slam.

“We were trying to get Nick Castellanos’ autograph because my dad loves him,” Varen said. “He’s his favorite player.”

Then it happened. Moments after his signature game as a Cincinnati Red, Castellanos left his signature on the family’s lineup card.

“And then,” Varen said, “Joey Votto came over, and he gave me this hat. And I will never forget that it’s his, because it has a sticker that says ‘19′ on the inside of it.”

The hat didn’t quite fit, but that didn’t matter.

“He put it on my head, and it just about fell off of me,” Varen said. “I really didn’t know what to do. I was just like screaming inside because I was so happy.”

Stacy says it was just what the family needed.

“Life has been a little difficult lately, right? That made it even better for me that she had a split-second of joy... and I’m just thankful,” she said.

ALS is not incurable, Stacy notes, but research into a cure is currently underfunded. That’s another reason she was thankful for the Reds game, because that extra amount of awareness might make the difference for families like hers.

But in the moment, it was all about creating memories that can stand the test of time.

“Daddy’s saying, ‘Varen, oh, Varen can show her kids. That’s something Varen can show her kids and say, ‘You know, when I was a kid, I went to the ball park and look what happened,’'” Stacy said.

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