The sophomore pitcher circled the mound before the first batter stepped into the box, and then he bent over behind the rubber. He extended his left hand and began to use his index finger as a pencil for the cool dirt. It was winter, and the high school baseball season was just underway. He was set to face his high school’s arch rival, one of the best teams in the state of Alabama. The sophomore had already won his first three starts as a varsity pitcher, including a five-inning no-hitter, striking out nine batters in a shortened game due to the mercy rule. He was an ace. But against his team’s rival, he should have been nervous. He was a sixteen-year-old pitching against a great team, after all. But he was as cool as he could be. He was pitching with purpose.
Not long before the game, he stood in his coach’s office in the stadium’s press box, and talked about his purpose with a reporter. His mother died the previous October after battling breast cancer for nearly two years. The family found out about her diagnosis on Valentine’s Day when the sophomore was an eighth-grader, in the drive-thru at a Wendy’s. When she died, his mother was fifty years old. Just before she died, her son promised her two things — that he would marry a woman who reflected her and that he would pitch his way to college baseball.
“When people lose family members, some rarely get the opportunity to talk with them and say goodbye,” he says. “Barring the situation, I feel really thankful I was able to do that. When my mom was on hospice care, I got to be around her a lot. While she wasn’t very responsive, you could tell when she was hearing and listening to you. I got the chance to tell my mom how thankful I was to have her as my mom, and she taught me more (about) life than she would ever know. Getting to tell the person who gave you everything in life how thankful you are for it and how much you love them for the sacrifices they gave to benefit your life is something that will give you peace to any situation. I also promised her things in life that I would accomplish for her – in memory of her.”
He left the press box after a fifteen-minute interview and warmed up for the game. Just prior to the first pitch, he bent down to etch his mother’s initials and the breast cancer symbol on the backside of the pitcher’s mound. He proceeded to hurl a complete-game five-hitter, allowing his only two earned runs in the top of the seventh, the final inning. His team won 3-2. He struck out six batters. He finished his first varsity season with nine wins and one loss for a team that won the area championship.
“The support I had from my baseball team that season was something that was beyond special,” he says. “I felt so close to all those guys and I knew they were behind me supporting me through that time.”
His head coach that season was supportive. After the win over the team’s biggest rival, the coach talked about how his pitcher’s tough situation ministered to his team, how instead of the team ministering to him, his family ministered to the team. He called it amazing.
Over his final two seasons of high school baseball, the pitcher compiled twelve wins against just four losses and a 1.88 earned-run average. He struck out more than one hundred batters.
For his efforts, he earned scholarship offers from several college programs around the Southeast. He chose the one closest to home, to be near his longtime girlfriend and son, who was born when he was a high school junior. His plan was to propose to his girlfriend during one of his college baseball seasons. He did so on the first weekend of the 2017 college baseball season. She said yes.
“I feel like it is a promise kept, and I am blessed to be in the situation I am in,” he says. “I will always look back to my coaches and teammates during the hardest time in my life and see the positive impact they had on my life, and where I am now is because of all they did for me during this time in my life.”
As far as his mound ritual, the pitcher no longer etches his mother’s initials in the mound, but they are written across his glove, so that she will always be there for him every time he steps on a mound. He looks back to that sophomore season as a blessed time.
“Going through things like that will always be hard, but when you have people surrounding you and providing love and encouragement, it gives you a peace about it,” he says.