Yankees surprise Jefferson during HOPE Week
Young man has helped care for his mother, who has multiple sclerosis
MONTVALE, N.J. -- During their long and storied history, the New York Yankees have gravitated toward greatness.
A franchise doesn't win 27 World Series titles without doing so.
However, don't think for a second that the team's ability to identify excellence ends on the field of play. No, it extends into the homes, schools and businesses of people with stories of overcoming adversity.
Need proof? Just see Quai Jefferson and his mother, Vaida, the latest examples of the club's commitment to community.
As part of the Yankees' sixth annual HOPE (Helping Others Persevere and Excel) Week -- which recognizes individuals or groups worthy of recognition and support -- the 18-year-old Quai and his mother were honored in surprise fashion by multiple Yankees on Friday. The celebratory lunch was held at Saint Joseph Regional High School, Quai's alma mater in Montvale, N.J.
"Today is very special. … I had no idea what was going to happen," Quai said. "My family knew. But they didn't say a word. They set me up real good."
Friday's visiting party included a sampling of the Bombers' best players: CC Sabathia, Masahiro Tanaka, Brian McCann and Mark Teixeira. Also in attendance were veterans Kelly Johnson and Brendan Ryan, plus youngsters Dellin Betances, Yangervis Solarte and Jose Ramirez.
In addition to the aforementioned players, several famous Saint Joseph alumni were on hand: former Yankees catcher and current YES Network broadcaster John Flaherty, as well as brothers Devin and Jason McCourty, both in the National Football League.
"You would love to think that every kid that goes through these doors is going to end up like this young man," Flaherty said.
"We're proud of all of our kids here, but I think this story kind of goes over the top in what he does on a daily basis. How successful he has become in the classroom and on the football field. There are going to be some great things waiting for him, whatever he chooses to do."
The Jeffersons were selected for HOPE Week recognition because of their ability to handle life's curveballs. Eleven years ago, Quai was thrust into a position of responsibility when Vaida was diagnosed with the autoimmune disease multiple sclerosis. When most children were responsible for little more than running and playing outside, Quai was running a household.
"I just kept my mind focused on my books, my schoolwork, my athletic ability, taking care of [my mother] and just loving my family," Quai said.
In a position that would wear down even the most resolved, Quai found a way to excel using the power of positive thinking.
"Challenges build you, mold you, and cultivate who you are today. … With love, anything is possible," he said.
"I just knew I had to overcome any obstacle. … I knew if I took care of business and kept my right foot forward, everything else would fall into place."
Cooking, shopping, cleaning and helping Vaida in many other respects wasn't simply part of the daily routine. It was the daily routine. Still, good luck finding someone who saw Quai shirk his obligations.
"When you actually find out the situation that he is in, you're first shocked, and then you admire because you think, 'Wow, I don't think I could do that as a high school kid,'" said Augie Hoffmann, the head football coach at Saint Joseph.
"Despite everything he has gone through, he is as good of a kid as we have ever had here. And he deserves nothing but the best."
Hoffmann also spoke glowingly of Quai's close-knit relationship with his mother.
"It's a special, special thing. Obviously all sons and mothers have a special bond. But I think due to their situation, it's a lot different. And I don't think a lot of people can comprehend just how different it is until you've seen it and been a part of his life."
To some, Quai's strong character and courage are apparent off the bat. And in the eyes of Sabathia, Quai's accomplishments are nothing short of remarkable.
"To take on the responsibilities that he has and be able to finish school and get a [college] scholarship is unbelievable," Sabathia said.
"There doesn't seem like there's enough hours in the day to do all that stuff. … He can do whatever he wants. Given the challenges he has already faced and overcome, the sky is the limit for him."
Also left impressed by Quai was Teixeira, whose eagerness to participate Friday was readily apparent.
"You know, we get to choose our stories. I have always been very passionate about kids and education and athletics, and kids getting to that next level," Teixeira said.
"Whether it be from high school to college, or college to getting a job and making a future for yourself. And you see what Quai's done along that road. It's such an inspiring story."
Prior to her diagnosis, Vaida was a design assistant for Jones New York. Her free time was spent doting on her son and exposing him to a variety of activities. From art classes to piano lessons to tap dancing, they grew together.
"They're best friends," Teixeira noted. "Vaida said she takes care of Quai, and Quai takes care of her."
Having recently closed a life chapter as an honor roll student and varsity football and basketball player, Quai is now looking forward to college life at the University of Delaware. There, he will continue his football career while majoring in business administration with an emphasis in accounting or marketing.
And among the throngs of fans on Quai's personal sideline, his superlative supporter will remain none other than his mother.
"I can't even begin to tell you [how proud I am]," Vaida said. "When your child is doing good things, you're so happy."
As Friday's early festivities came to a close, so too did the Yankees' sixth annual HOPE Week. But thanks to the benevolence of many, the stories of those honored will live on. Fans interested in learning more may visit the official HOPE Week website for more information on previous honorees.
Zachary Finkelstein is an editorial producer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.