Brody walked up to bat, weakened from chemo and vulnerable because of the IV port in his chest. But you can't keep a boy like Brody from baseball. It kept him going during the long weeks of treatment at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, and now he was home and ready to play.
So his coaches had devised a solution. He could go to bat, but if he got a hit, a pinch runner would run the bases for him.
He'd played with the boys on his team since he was 7, and the other moms and dads had rooted for him, and cried for him, as if he were their own child. The crack of his bat would be a victory in itself. Who cared who ran the bases?
“The first time he was able to play…he’d get to first base and the people on the other team would be, ‘Why isn’t he running?’” said his mom, Lisa. “And we’d all be cheering as if he’d just hit one over the fence.”
It was Brody’s moment. Now, he knows there will be more.
He just broke his bat
Because of the novel coronavirus, kids can’t play baseball. But Brody, having gone through almost all his cancer treatment, has become an expert in doing what he can do. During a recent Zoom call with St. Jude supporter and Minnesota Twins player Randy Dobnak, Dobnak talked to Brody about baseball, including how he went from being a kid like Brody with a passion for the game to an Uber driver to one of the Twins’ newest players.
He’s got his new baseball bat: a Marucci Category 8. “They’re like really good bats,” he said.
He practices pitching and hitting in his Illinois backyard, and when the time comes again, he’ll be ready.
Brody wants to be a Major League Baseball player. And after that?
“A doctor at St. Jude,” said Brody.
Ambitious goals for any kid, but Brody has reason to hope.
Brody once broke a metal bat with the force of his hit.
“The coach’s son was pitching to me and the first pitch, the very first pitch he threw to me, I hit it and the coach was like, ‘He just broke his bat,’ and he couldn’t believe it,” said Brody.
Brody gave his coach the bent bat. His coach snapped it in two.
As for the kind of in-depth medical knowledge that could help him become a doctor someday? He has it in spades after getting cancer treatment day-in and day-out for two-and-a-half years. And he has the endurance that comes with that, too.
A normal, 12-year-old boy
If all goes according to schedule, Brody will celebrate "No More Chemo" on Aug. 25. “He just wants to be a normal, 12-year-old boy,” said Lisa.
But let’s break it down, this idea of being “normal.” There’s proof he already is.
- He won’t officially admit to loving his older sister. But he does.
“He still fights with his sister, as normal,” said Lisa. “And now [because of the coronavirus] she’s home all the time, but we love her, don’t we?” said Lisa.
“Well, I wouldn’t go that far,” said Brody.
Brody looks at his mom. She laughs at his joke.
- Brody does a little too much video gaming.
“I play a lot of Fortnite and 2K20 basketball and MLB19,” said Brody.
Lisa feels OK about it because, for a time during treatment, and this may feel familiar to other parents during the era of COVID-19, gaming provided a social outlet when Brody was separated from his friends during chemotherapy at St. Jude.
“It was a way for him to put his headphones on and he could hear his friends and play with them, and so it was amazing to see how much it would make him feel so much better to hear their voices,” said Lisa.
The yelling, the trash talk, the laughter – if you squinted your eyes, it felt like being back home. It felt like the light at the end of a very long cancer tunnel.
“So at the time, I said, ‘I don’t care, just play for hours if you want,’” she said.
So he did.
- Sometimes he laughs at his dad’s expense.
When Brody gets off a good baseball hit, his dad sometimes ducks, even when he knows he’s safe behind the screen.
“My dad gets scared even when he’s behind the L screen because I’ll hit a line drive right back to him, and he’ll just duck and turn his back toward me, and it’s really funny,” said Brody.
- When it comes to sports, Brody loves what he loves, defiantly.
Brody’s family, being from Illinois, roots for the Chicago Cubs, and Anthony Rizzo is Brody’s favorite player. He also loves going to Busch Stadium to catch the St. Louis Cardinals games, but even then, he represents.
“Brody is the one who goes to a Cardinals game even when they’re not playing the Cubs, and he’s dressed in full Cubs gear,” said Lisa. “And they always ask him if he’s lost and if he needs directions, but he doesn’t care. We’re talking head to toe, hat to shoes.”
Rivalries aside, his passion for baseball made him appreciate the time to talk with Randy Dobnak, an actual major league baseball player.
So normal, yes, he is. But when his mom starts crying while describing the earliest days of his treatment for B-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia in late 2017, he puts his arm around her shoulder and gives her a hug.
“He’s never complained and he’s never said, ‘Why me?’” said Lisa. “He’s kept my husband and me strong through all of this.”
In abnormal circumstances, perhaps being normal is a form of heroism.
Thirty tubes of blood
Brody sits beside his mom as she recalls the night they learned he had cancer.
“We were at the Chicago hospital and it was about midnight,” said Lisa. “Brody was awake, and I was awake, and I was just sitting looking out the window at the Chicago skyline, and he said, ‘Mom, the doctor told me I could ask her anything.' And I said, ‘Yeah, you can.’ And he said, ‘Can I ask her if I’m going to die?’”
Brody holds his pointer finger to the bridge of his nose and presses. He’s trying to keep from crying.
“And I just knew that my heart was breaking, and I myself—“ Lisa turns and notices Brody’s stricken face. “I’m sorry,” she said.
They look at each other and laugh. A tear falls down Brody’s cheek. He brushes it away and smiles at her.
“I mean, my heart was breaking, and I wanted to know that same thing,” said Lisa. “And I just was just so certain that going to St. Jude was without a doubt, it was the best place for him.”
Within 48 hours, they were in Memphis.
“They let us drive there because my husband is a firefighter paramedic, because Brody was really sick,” said Lisa. “There were two nurses waiting for us in the lobby when we got there. We walked in the door, it was midnight, and they approached us, and within an hour, I think there were over 20 people in his room, taking care of him, taking blood samples.”
Brody, normal 12-year-old boy, wanted to pause on this.
“They took 30 tubes of blood!” he said.
Genetic testing would later determine Brody had an abnormality that made him susceptible to leukemia relapse, so he began a course of chemotherapy for high-risk patients.
He traded a baseball team for a care team, but he would be back.
Dreams for the future
Brody’s family is taking extra precautions because of the coronavirus: no school right now, baseball practice in the backyard only, lots of staying inside, and when he does leave the house for chemo treatments, he keeps his distance.
“For other people it’s six feet. For me, it’s 10 feet, and I have to wash my hands more,” said Brody.
“He and I have pretty much mastered social distancing for the past two-and-a-half years, so it really wasn’t much different to us,” said Lisa.
His compromised immune system keeps him close to home for now, but Brody has dreams for the future, which include: Getting a border collie and naming him Ace. Pitching at Cooperstown this summer. Celebrating his No More Chemo party in August. Visiting as many baseball stadiums as he can. Becoming an MLB player. Becoming a St. Jude doctor.
“After everything he’s been through, there can’t be anything that’s any harder than this,” said Lisa.
So he continues to play and get chemo and work hard, and when the kids are finally allowed their baseball again, he will be there – the first on the field.