Family Completes Dad's Dream of Visiting Every MLB Stadium and His Sons Got to Throw Out the First Pitch

"All of our faces hurt from smiling," Air Force Col. Erick Gilbert's widow Kasia tells PEOPLE

<p>The Miami Marlins</p> From left: Dane and Chase Gilbert at a June 9 baseball game in Miami

The Miami Marlins

From left: Dane and Chase Gilbert at a June 9 baseball game in Miami

A Colorado dad's dream has been fulfilled after his death, thanks to his family.

In 2015, while U.S. Air Force Col. Erick Gilbert was away on deployment, he decided to set a goal with his wife and kids to visit every Major League Baseball park before his older son, Dane, turned 18.

But just two ballparks short of visiting all 30, Gilbert died unexpectedly at the age of 43.

"He was a great leader in everything that he did," Chase Gilbert, Dane's younger brother, tells PEOPLE.

Now Chase, Dane and their mom have accomplished Erick's plan with visits this month to the Tampa Bay Rays' Tropicana Field and the Miami Marlins' LoanDepot Park.

The trips from ballpark to ballpark allowed the die-hard baseball family, who live on a small ranch just north of Colorado Springs, to visit the 28 fields over four seasons, including a 30-day road trip where they visited 17 at one time.

Stops at nearby national parks and donut shops were other favorite memories.

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<p>courtesy The Gilbert Family</p> U.S. Air Force Col. Erick Gilbert

courtesy The Gilbert Family

U.S. Air Force Col. Erick Gilbert

"[It was] just something we all enjoyed and we just love spending time together, and then including baseball in there is just a lot of fun," says Dane, who will be playing baseball for Missouri Valley College.

The family took their game-day visits seriously, even when it came to the sillier priorities.

"We all had different jobs," says mom Kasia, a military contractor. "Chase's job during our Major League Baseball park tours was to figure out what the most outrageous or interesting food was that we needed to try."

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<p>courtesy The Gilbert Family</p> The Gilbert family

courtesy The Gilbert Family

The Gilbert family

But over the past week or so, Kasia says "the boys" were in for several surprises with the help of the team organizations and the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS).

For Dane, a highlight of the Friday, June 7, Rays game allowed him and his family to get on the field for batting practice. He also got some of his baseball card collection signed.

"That's one of my top hobbies, and I got it from my dad too," Dane says. "Getting to see all those guys up close and in person was awesome."

With a day in between their final ballpark stop, Kasia shares that the family rented a car and headed to Miami but made sure to enjoy South Beach, too.

"It was just a good road trip," she says. "Making new memories like we've always done."

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One memory the family won't forget is having Dane and Chase each throw the first pitch for the Sunday, June 9, game in Miami. "It was a surprise for all of us," Chase says. "It was awesome."

"They brought us to the dugout. We got to check it out, which was super cool," he says. "They brought out not only a jersey that was signed by the whole team for us, but they also then told us that we would be throwing out the honorary first pitch."

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With his own goal to play on a big league field one day, Dane says that it was a "dream come true." Chase notes that his dad "would've just been absolutely stoked."

"The fact that we threw out the first pitch, he would've thought that's the coolest thing ever," Chase says.

Kasia says she could imagine Erik's "great smile" throughout the experience.

<p>courtesy The Gilbert Family</p> From left: Chase Gilbert, Kasia Gilbert and Dane Gilbert.

courtesy The Gilbert Family

From left: Chase Gilbert, Kasia Gilbert and Dane Gilbert.

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"All of our faces hurt from smiling, and we could just picture the big old grin on Eric's face the whole time everything was happening," she says.

And while his dream has come to a close, his spirit lives on in his family.

"I was captain this year for a baseball team," Dane says. "I think just being able to lead people the same [way] that he did — I just want to keep doing that."

Kasia is thankful to share Erik's story. "The more we talk about [him]," she says, "we keep [his] memory alive."

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