By DR KENNETH D KEMP
THERE’S something uniquely American about baseball – its simplicity, the hot dogs and the cheering fans in the stands create what feels like a community connected. It’s not surprising that we in The Bahamas also feel a connection, given that the major contributor to the origins of baseball was a man with the common Bahamian surname, Cartwright.
I went to my first major league game when I moved to New York in 2008 and it was only then, watching the game in person surrounded by tens of thousands of fans, did I truly understand and appreciate the national appeal. Baseball, unlike any other sport, doesn’t overwhelmingly demand that their professional players be young, tall or muscular. It’s a game of tactical shrewdness that places more emphasis on discipline and less on speed and strength. It’s a sport where anyone from any background can succeed.
Corey, the patient discussed in today’s report, fell in love with baseball at the age of four because of his sports-loving father. Little did he know that almost twenty years later, while on track for the Major Leagues, he’d be carried off the field after shattering multiple bones in his face and suffering a major concussion that brought him dangerously close to the brink of death.
Corey grew up during a different era when children played outside until the sun went down, oscillating from one neighbour’s yard to the next without any safety concerns. It was during this time, playing T-ball, that he learned the concepts of the game. From there, his love of the sport was fostered and his competitive streak was born.
His father built a batting cage for him and his brothers to practice and his dad became his de facto personal baseball coach until the age of 10. At that point, he transferred to Freedom Farm; a local non-profit baseball club for children ages four to 18. Given all his years of early practice, Corey quickly stood out and he was selected to compete at a game in Kentucky, US. There, he and his team-mates won every game on their trip. It was his first time winning at a sport internationally and he was determined that it wouldn’t be his last.
In high school, Corey began to participate in other sports outside of baseball like track and field, volleyball and softball but he struggled balancing all of them with a full school curriculum. Inevitably his grades suffered and in grade 7 he was placed on academic probation. His parents threatened to stop him from ever playing sports again if his grades didn’t improve. The threat worked. He became more disciplined and by the following semester, his grades skyrocketed to a 3.0. By then, however, he’d lost his opportunity to transfer along with his teammates to a competitive baseball programme at American Heritage High School in Florida.
Disappointed and afraid that his friends would now surpass his abilities, Corey, who was doggedly determined to become a professional baseball player, exercised day and night to get faster and stronger. On the field, he only played with guys who were much older, convinced that by pushing himself he would improve.
Within a year, he got his chance to attend American Heritage where he graduated with honours. In college, he continued to excel but suffered an injury to his right elbow during an intense training session. It resulted in a small avulsion fracture in his arm that became completely detached after he threw the ball to the catcher. Corey heard a pop and his arm immediately began to swell. Fortunately, he recovered quickly with rehab and the following season was his best.
He was finally on track to be drafted by a major league team, fulfilling a life-long dream. By that spring, however, he threw a pitch off that same arm and ruptured one of the ligaments in his elbow so extensively that he had to undergo surgical repair and a 12-month recovery period. During his recovery he transferred to a larger university for better access to more advanced rehabilitation facilities for the necessary therapy, strength coaching and training that he required. The injury once again caused his grades to diminish and many nights he was the only athlete on the bus with a light on, studying while travelling to games.
Then, in a routine game in New York, he got in position to bat and glanced over for a quick second toward the batter’s eye, which is the dark-coloured area behind a pitcher that a batter sees waiting for a pitch. The glaring sun obscured his peripheral vision and he looked away for a second. Without warning, a ball travelling at 90 miles per hour struck him in his face, just below his right eye.
The pain was instant and agonising. The force of the impact felt like a missile had exploded on his face. His cheeks and mouth vibrated uncontrollably. Within seconds, Corey’s face swelled to double its size. He was so dizzy that the world around him swirled. Fortunately, his coach caught him as he was about to collapse and supported his neck until he could be placed on a stretcher and transported to the emergency room at a small local hospital. His right eye was swollen shut, his headache so excruciating that he felt like his brain and face were being repeatedly squeezed and stabbed. Corey was unable to lay down because it elicited severe pain to his neck and head, so extreme that his body began to shake. But, because the hospital staff were distracted by another emergency case, he never had any head scans performed. Instead, he was given a prescription for Tylenol and discharged home on bed rest.
A week went by and Corey’s headache was still severe. He was unable to open his eye or breathe properly through his nose. He also suffered with alarming balance issues. He couldn’t be in a room with a bright light and any loud noises intensified his symptoms. When he began vomiting blood, his host-parents came home immediately and drove him to a larger hospital in New York where he was diagnosed with an internal brain haemorrhage, three fractures to his lower occipital bone, three fractures in his jaw and extensive facial nerve damage. Just a few more hours without any medical intervention and he would have died. The neurosurgeon on call opted to treat him with intravenous medication and his symptoms improved quickly.
When it was time to return to playing baseball, Corey failed his concussion protocol five times before finally getting cleared but he was never the same. He suffered with short term memory loss and difficulty concentrating; symptoms he continues to grapple with to this day. It was the end of his career in baseball and the final death kneel to a lifelong dream that started side by side with his father during one of the happiest and most formative times of his life.
Corey’s take home message is that playing sports helps to mold you as an individual. It teaches you discipline and the importance of hard work, listening to and learning from constructive criticism, how to work within a team, accepting loss and persevering until successful. It’s also taught him that hard times don’t last forever and he has no regrets.
As a married father of two sons, Corey intends to share his love of sports with his children because beyond the batter’s eye, and despite his earlier setbacks, he’s determined that their world, through God’s eternal grace, be filled with endless possibilities.
This is The KDK Report.
• Nicknamed ‘The Prince of Podiatry’, Dr Kenneth D Kemp is the founder and medical director of Bahamas Foot and Ankle located in Caves Village, Western New Providence. He served as the deputy chairman for the Health Council for five years and he currently sits on the board of directors for the Princess Margaret Hospital Foundation in his role as co-vice-chairman.