BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — For the Mattina family, the ballpark has always been a safe space. The family of six spent plenty of summer nights at Bisons’ games because their only son, Christian, enjoyed the atmosphere.
“For Christian to be able to be excited and scream at the Bisons game, it was like the only place where we felt accepted was going to the Bisons game,” his sister Gabrielle said. “Everywhere else you took him, people would stare at him. But at the Bisons game, everybody is screaming.”
Christian has autism and he’s nonverbal, but his family says he’s always in a good mood when they go to games. Back in the 90s, the Mattina’s even had season tickets down the third base line. It was the perfect view to watch the game and every once in a while a player would throw a ball into the stands.
At one particular game, a player was asking kids if they wanted a ball and throwing them into the stands before the game. Christian was standing up, but couldn’t tell the player he wanted a ball because he’s nonverbal. That player walked away and went back to the dugout.
The Mattina’s were crushed, but as it turns out, that player wasn’t ignoring Christian, he was getting him something better than a ball.
“A couple of minutes later, he came back, and instead of a ball he gave him his practice bat,” Mattina said. “[It was] Casey Candaele, he gave it to Christian, and we still have it to this day.”
Candaele spent three seasons as a player with the Bisons from 1995-1997. Although he played professionally for several years, he always enjoyed his time in Western New York.
“I met so many great people in the organization there,” Candaele said. “The Bisons treated me so well for the three years I was there on and off.”
Ever since that encounter, Candaele has been the Mattinas' favorite player, which is why they were elated to find out in March that the Bisons had named Candaele the 22nd manager in team history.
When Gabrielle found out the news, she posted the story of her brother’s encounter with Candaele on Facebook. Eventually, it made its way to the new Bisons manager.
“I’m tearing up right now because I had that sent to me, the post, and the picture, and it was just so moving for me that it affected someone in such a positive way,” Candaele said.
“We always remember it, and we just want to say thank you on behalf of Christian and I, and we hope the Bisons kick butt this year,” Mattina added.