Stephen Catherine heard the thud and knew. His fatherly instincts sent him sprinting toward the street. Once there, he thought his worst fears were confirmed.
There lay his 4-year old son Caleb Catherine motionless, blood dripping from the corner of his mouth. A car had just struck Caleb and sent him flying high into the air. He landed hard on the Arch St. pavement and Stephen wondered if he would ever speak to his son again.
"When I saw him in the street, I thought he was dead," Stephen said. "As the night went on, I didn't know if he was going to live. I'll never forget that night."
Caleb Catherine and South Williamsport are off to a 14-0 start.
Flash forward 14 years to a sunny Saturday morning in Muncy. That day Stephen watched Caleb bat leadoff for South Williamsport, collect two hits and showcase his speed when he beat out a perfectly-placed bunt. This story has a happy ending.
Caleb suffered two broken legs and a concussion, but survived. Initially, there was concern over whether Caleb would walk again, but he has thrived since the accident, never missing a baseball season. Today, the senior outfielder is hitting .605 and is a huge reason South Williamsport (14-0) is undefeated and off to the best start in program history.
"Any time you can overcome adversity and perform well, especially the way he has this year it always puts a smile on your face," South coach Shawn Finn said. "It's good to see that because anytime you can overcome adversity that is the sign of a good athlete at any level."
The adversity started on Sept. 10, 1998. Caleb was attending his older brother Ian's fall baseball practice at the Newberry Little League complex. At some point, Caleb thought that both Stephen and Ian had crossed Arch St. into the YBC parking lot where their car was parked. Although they were still at the field, Caleb, fearing he was going to be left behind, started to cross the street. That is when an oncoming car hit him and sent him soaring upward.
Stephen said he, along with everyone else at the field, heard the loud thud when Caleb hit the ground. Stephen ran a few hundred feet and said he cannot remember his feet ever hitting the ground. When he reached Caleb he quickly noticed that, not only was he unconscious, but that his knees were bent opposite of how they should be.
Caleb was rushed to Williamsport Hospital and then was life-flighted to Geisinger in Danville. Once there, Stephen and his wife were semi-relieved when doctors told them their son had two broken legs and a concussion. Considering the violent collision with the both the car and the ground, it could have been much worse. Caleb remained unconscious for five days and stayed at Geisinger for two weeks while being placed in a body cast.
But Caleb was alive and that was all that mattered. And it was not like the broken femurs slowed him down anyway. Caleb simply improvised.
"I remember both legs were casted and I had a blue bar between my legs and I remember I would do the crab walk around the house," Caleb said. "The doctors said if I was ever going to break my legs that was the right time for it to happen since I was still young and growing. Both femurs were broken but I never thought it was that serious."
Really, the only thing Caleb cared about was playing baseball again. He is an athlete who literally was born to play, swinging at Stephen's pitches as soon as he could grip a bat at age 1. So despite being in a body cast, Caleb had no desire to stop playing the game he loved.
Before the accident, Caleb asked Stephen, a carpenter, to build him a baseball bat. Stephen made him his own personalized bat with the blue barrel and red handle Caleb requested. He then placed Caleb in his red wagon and gave him his new bat. He would lob balls toward Caleb as the determined 4-year-old swung and hit them.
"When I would sit down and have him on my lap I could feel the bumps from the broken legs, but he still wanted to play," Stephen said. "I put some blankets in that wagon and he would be content swinging and hitting. He always loved to hit."
He still does.
These days, Caleb hits just about everything in sight. He is the one who ignites one of the district's best offenses, consistently setting the table for the likes of Alex Carpenter, Brandon Gantz and Ryan Orgitano, to name a few. One look at Caleb hitting, running well and covering good ground in center field and one likely would be stunned to know how serious an injury he has overcome.
"I never really think about my legs. I just go out and play baseball to the best of my ability and play hard every day," Caleb said. "It's everybody. All 17 kids on that roster know what it takes and know we can't take any days off. No matter who we're playing and no matter the score we take every game the same."
The injuries never slowed Caleb and the three-year starter in baseball and football leads South in stolen bases and runs scored. He still has scars on his calves from the injury but those are the only reminders of that night and those injuries.
The only thing the accident did was provide more motivation. Caleb spent much of the offseason in the weight room and has even provided some power at the top of the lineup, hitting a grand slam against Hughesville. He grew up playing the infield but has excelled as an outfielder for South while also pitching well when called upon.
"Caleb has a true passion for the game," Finn said. "He knows the game well and that's a hard thing to coach. He plays hard every time he's out there and he's gotten better every year. He's got a good all-around game and is a complete player."
Caleb has verbally committed to play baseball at California, Pa., next spring. Before that, he hopes to help South capture league and district championships. He is playing the game he loves with life-long friends he loves.
He survived a nightmare and now is pursuing his dreams. And for Caleb's family, that is a dream come true.
"Even if he didn't play sports it's still a blessing how things have turned out," Stephen said. "It's a blessing he's alive."