When Robert O’Neill took his son Bailey to a Phillies game last August, he never thought it’d be the last baseball game they’d watch together at Citizens Bank Park.
“It was on my birthday, Aug. 26,” he said Tuesday. “That was the last Phillies game he went to.”
Bailey died March 3. He began having violent seizures about two weeks after a fellow student on the playground at Darby Township School punched him Jan. 10. The 12-year-old was in a medically induced coma for weeks afterward. He died after being taken off life support.
His family’s assertions that he was bullied gave the case widespread attention and Delaware County District Attorney Jack Whelan said at the time that "the likelihood is strong" that charges would be filed in the death. A spokeswoman for Whelan said yesterday the DA is still waiting for a medical examiner’s report before making an announcement. The report is expected by the end of April.
Now, the Phillies organization will give Bailey and his father at least one more game together. They will honor the former little leaguer from Delaware County who lived and breathed Phillies and Flyers at the May 29 home game against the Boston Red Sox, Robert O'Neill said today. A Phillies official had told Philly.com Tuesday evening that the team was going to reach out to the O'Neill family.
"This is wonderful news, and we’re so thankful for the Phillies to reach out to our family and dedicate a home game to Bailey’s memory. It’s so exciting that people want to see this for Bailey," O'Neill said. "We look forward to working with the Phillies to make sure the game raises awareness about the dangers of bullying and helps educate our youth."
An online campaign at Change.org aided the elder O’Neill in raising Bailey's profile this week.
Almost 15,000 people had signed a Change.org petition as of 3:30 p.m. today asking the Phillies to dedicate a game at Citizens Bank Park in memory of the former little leaguer and honor roll student.
That was up from just 3,000 at the start of Tuesday, his father said.
"It’s crazy. Last week, there was 1,000 supporters," said O’Neill, 39, who just returned to work a week and a half ago as a driver for J. Ambrogi Food Dist. Inc. “It’s overwhelming. It’s so exciting that people want to see this for Bailey. … He was such a huge Phillies fan and this will make him so happy.”
It didn’t take long for the baseball franchise to take notice. On Tuesday evening, Phillies’ director of public affairs Scott Palmer said he’d been following Bailey’s tragic tale and the rising tide of support led the Phillies to consider a dedication at the May 29 home game.
"To hear about it was gut wrenching," Palmer said of the boy's death.
Robert O’Neill, who declined to discuss the ongoing investigation into his son’s death, said Bailey's presence at one more Phillies game could really help stop bullying.
"We have the campaign 'Battle for Bailey,'" he said of the ongoing anti-bullying effort that began before Bailey died. “It’s not like it used to be 10 years ago in the schoolyard. We have to get the word out."
Contact Brian X. McCrone at 215-854-2267 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @brianxmccrone on Twitter.