ST. PETERSBURG — Since his school bus crashed into a pond and he bravely fished out three classmates, 10-year-old Nicholas Sierra has been squeezed by a lot of strangers.
"People are hugging me and I don't know why," he told his mom Erika Linarez.
Nicholas, who is in fifth grade and on the safety patrol at Mary E. Bryant Elementary School, has been called a hero for swimming through murky pond water to help a few of the 26 other schoolchildren aboard his bus.
One Tampa Bay area resident was so inspired by Nicholas' efforts that he anonymously offered the boy his Rays season ticket seats for last Friday's game against the Baltimore Orioles.
Sierra was ecstatic.
"My dad gave me the goods news," Nicholas said. "I thought, 'Oh my god, we're going to get to go to a Rays game.'"
But then it got even better.
When the anonymous season ticket holder informed the Rays of his gift, the team "rolled out the red carpet," spokesman Rick Vaughn said. They invited Sierra to bring his whole family to the game, come early for batting practice and meet the team.
Rays Manager Kevin Cash, whose daughters also attend Bryant Elementary, presented Sierra with a dark blue jersey bearing the boy's last name and the No. 10.
"Because that's my age," Sierra said.
He even got to take home a baseball signed by his favorite players.
"They really went VIP for Nico for the day," said his stepmother, Debra Sierra. "He really is a good kid. Anybody who knows Nico knows that about him."