It was an overcast day at the Central Park Zoo and the threat of rain explained the smaller than usual crowd that came to see the animals. But as a horse-drawn carriage pulled up to the zoo’s southern entrance it seemed as if the dreary weather disappeared.
New York Yankees manager Joe Girardi hopped out of the carriage, followed by two young men who looked like they just hit the lottery. That is because, for them, they had.
John Lathutsky and Andrei Sullivan’s childhoods were far from normal, they were born with cerebral palsy and, as babies, became victims of the Soviet Union childcare system. Because of their condition, doctors considered them “incurable” and their carers never taught them how to speak and discouraged them from walking.
John (called Vanya until he came to the United States) was able to teach himself to talk by listening to staff members and he passed this skill onto the younger Andrei. They looked after one another and kept each other company during their years confined in an orphanage building called Baby House 10.
In 1997, an American couple, Tom and Roz Sullivan, adopted Andrei and two years later Paula Lahutsky made John her son. The two childhood friends had not seen each other since they said goodbye that spring day of Andrei departure.
Smiles seemingly engraved on their faces, John, now 21, and Andrei, 19, along with Girardi made their way into the zoo where Yankee players Mark Teixeira and Brett Gardner as well as coaches Kevin Long and Larry Rothschild were waiting to greet them.
Earlier that morning, the New York Yankees, as part of their 3rd annual Hope Week, hosted a surprise reunion for John and Andrei behind the scenes of The Today Show. When they first saw each other the long lost friends were ecstatic, John held back tears, and they became inseparable once again.
At the zoo, John, Andrei and players fed fish to the sea lions and got an up-close look at a Peregrine falcon. After grabbing lunch with these players and coaches, it was off to Yankee Stadium to watch batting practice. John and Andrei got seats right next to the batting cage and chatted with the Bombers in between rounds.
A nearly two hour long rain delay pushed back the start of the game but once tarps were off the field and the national anthem sung, John and Andrei threw out the ceremonial first pitch. John and Andrei always hoped to one day meet again, but never did they expect reuniting in such a grand fashion.
Watch the Today Show piece on the reunio