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Hofstra baseball team a perfect match for young fan

It's like a centrifugal force in pint-sized form.

The members of Hofstra's baseball team wear the same oversized heather gray Pride sweatsuits and that same unsmiling half-grimace - the one typical of trained athletes who've been taught the art of looking tough from a tender age.

Quickly and quietly, the shift begins. First, their shoulders pull up into an upright position. Then the corners of their mouths begin that familiar rise.

Finally, Pride baseball follows uniformly and obediently to the outskirts of the university physical fitness center - toward the vinyl curtain that leads to the other side, where two softball players practice.

It's nearly impossible to see the cause over the range of broad shoulders, but closer inspection reveals a towheaded bowl cut and a pair of lively Pride-blue eyes. Only about 3 feet tall, 4-year-old Colin Conaty this afternoon is the commander of men twice his size.

He wanted to see what was behind the curtain and, when he made the discovery, he challenged one of the softball players to a race (he won).

Colin is irresistible and effervescent and chats in lively fashion with anyone in the vicinity. He's always been like that, said his mother, Pat, of Massapequa, even when undergoing radiation therapy for his brain tumor.

Colin was diagnosed with ependymoma - an intracranial tumor tied to the central nervous system - when he was 2. The tumor has since been removed and Colin's prognosis is good, though regular MRIs are needed to make sure he remains healthy.

In the interim, Colin has inherited a cavalcade of brothers, playmates and pseudo-babysitters. He's been "adopted" - part of Friends of Jaclyn, a non-profit organization that matches children with pediatric brain tumors with high school and college teams.

Colin's father, PJ, heard about the program during the summer and quickly enrolled his son. By late September, Colin was matched with Hofstra. He was officially adopted about two weeks ago and visits the team about once a week for play sessions.

"He talks and runs around," said coach Pat Anderson, who enrolled the team after watching an HBO special on Friends of Jaclyn. "We've got a pretty big team and they follow him around like little puppy dogs."

On one Wednesday afternoon, the simile is especially apt. Colin has made up a game called Super Puppy ("You make up a lot of games," infielder Matt Ford opines dryly). Colin is the eponymous character, while the team is divided into good guys and bad guys. Ford, today, is an archnemesis named Otis, possibly after the Garfield dog, though Colin will neither confirm nor deny the source material.

The team is entirely game, sitting, standing and "sleeping" at Colin's command. There is a quiet murmur of dissent when Colin accuses Ford of power-stealing. Ford, who expresses his desire to play a good guy for once, takes exception. Onlookers are decidedly on Team Colin. "Will you quit stealing his powers?" a teammate says.

Superhero foe or not, Colin clearly enjoys his time with the boys in Hofstra blue. The team, he says, is "good. We play baseball and other stuff and duck-duck-goose."

The benefits are reciprocal.

"Everyone's more laid-back when he's around," said Jared Rogers, a freshman pitcher who helps coordinate team activities with Colin. "All the work we put in seems worth it. It all seems worth it."

Colin's family also has become involved. His four brothers and sisters join in on some of the sessions. Seeing Colin play "makes us feel grateful for each day," Pat Conaty said. After he was diagnosed, she said, "you didn't think past getting through the day."

With a plea from his chirpy voice and a flash from his light-up sneakers, Colin has asked the team to sit on the floor in front of him. He gives out instructions to the game he wants to play and few can suppress their smiles.

Rogers doesn't bother to hide his satisfaction.

"A 4-year-old overcame those odds," he said. "It inspires you to do better things than people think you can do."

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