After brain surgery, Watson returns to baseball

MARK NANCE/Sun-Gazette Iowa’s Brody Watson pitches during Thursday’s game against Staten Island, New York, at Howard J. Lamade Stadium.

Danny Watson cradled his semi-conscious 8-year old son Brody as blood streamed down the young child’s face.

Moments earlier, Brody had taken a nasty fall off his bicycle. The Watson’s rushed Brody to the hospital and he left a day later with multiple stitches and quite a swollen face. It was a painful experience, but it appeared the worst was over.

Instead, the nightmare was just beginning. Brody also had a CAT Scan performed that Saturday. By Monday, the doctor called the Watson’s and revealed that Brody had a dime-sized brain tumor. The news rocked the Watson’s to the core.

So just imagine the joy they feel as they watch Brody flourish on and off the field. Just imagine the exhiliration Brody is experiencing, helping his Grandview Little League team from Des Moines, Iowa reach the Little League World Series. Brody is now a 5-9, 200-pound man among boys. He is fully recovered and healthy. What started as a nightmare five years ago has become a dream come true.

“It was the worst day of my life when they gave us the news. It was the scariest thing I’ve been through in my life,” Danny said. “I tell him all the time, ‘look where you came from and look where you are now.’ This is beyond my wildest dreams. We thought winning states would be great and getting to regionals would be the greatest thing in the world and he we are at the Little League World Series

“It’s unbelievable.”

Surgery was performed soon after the diagnosis and doctors cut from behind Brody’s right temple down toward the back of his ear, successfully removing the tumor. Fortunately, the tumor was benign. Brody’s road back, however, remained bumpy.

Any time brain surgery is performed, the risks are many and there was no guarantee Brody would ever return to being the well-rounded child who was so full of life. The first three weeks were especially difficult. Brody experienced severe post-surgery anxiety and the Watson’s could not leave his side without him coming unglued. The situation was hard for any person to handle, let alone an 8-year-old.

Simply put, Brody was afraid he would die. In Brody’s time of need the Des Moines community rallied around the child. They donated shirts, hats and other gifts as well as sending video well-wishes. Des Moines native and Washington Nationals pitcher Jeremy Hellickson sent Brody autographed baseballs and a Bobble Head Doll. Suddenly, the storm clouds started parting and Brody could see the light again.

“He really had to fight back from that to become the player and person he is,” 58-year Grandview Little League volunteer and current vice president Larry Sellers said. “It’s a great story. It’s very special what he and his family are doing.”

The next question was how soon Brody could resume playing baseball. Danny would not let his son touch a baseball for the next six months. When Danny finally let Brody start playing again, he noticed his son’s hand-eye coordination was way off. Brody basically had to start learning baseball over. It was a huge challenge, but Brody embraced it.

Danny and Brody have taken few days off since that baseball comeback started. They practiced, they watched instructional videos and they kept grinding. Two years later, Brody was an all-star and his star has not stopped rising since. He has become one of Iowa’s premier youth baseball players, providing fantastic pitching, hitting and defense. He is a five-tool player with a rocket arm who can throw a 79 mile-per fastball and also run like a deer.

“Brody is a special kid and he’s overcome a lot of things in life,” Des Moines manager Matt Kunert said. “He’s throwing near 80, he has a real good curveball and he hits the ball a ton. He has the skills to be a superior player and he continues to be successful.”

Brody has emerged as a leader, too, and he has displayed a knack for playing his best in Des Moines’ biggest games. Des Moines won four straight elimination games to capture the Midwest championship and Brody came up big each time, finishing regionals with a home run and double. He also allowed just five hits in 10 innings while striking out 20.

As the tournament continued, Brody really heated up. He drove in seven runs over the final three games and helped keep this dream season alive.

“He digs deep and it always seems like he gets a big hit and does something important,” Grandview Little League president Patrick Turner said. “He always settles down when we need him.”

Brody was at his best when Des Moines needed him most in the Midwest championship. Facing a North Dakota team that had beaten Des Moines 4-1 earlier in the tournament, Brody shined on the big stage in front of a nationwide television audience. In addition to hitting a key two-run double, Brody overpowered North Dakota’s strong lineup, allowing just two hits in five innings and striking out eight as Des Moines won, 7-4.

“Brody is definitely a leader. He’s got broad shoulders and a lot of times they jump right on his back,” Kunert said. “With the speed of his pitches and the power of his bat, he definitely can lead us out there on the field.”

Despite his success, there are times when Brody is his worst critic. No matter how well he performs he can be hard on himself. He expects perfection in a sport that is all but unattainable. His parents, coaches and teammates do their best to prevent Brody from beating himself up.

The best advice could be this: Look at the challenges he faced. Look at what he has overcome. Look what he has achieved and where he is.

Brody has become a fantastic athlete and teammate. He is a profile in courage who towers over some huge obstacles.

“He’s only a kid, but look at what he’s battled back from. Thinking back to where he has come from to where he is now is incredible,” Danny said. “I told him this is like the Major Leagues here. It’s like a fairy tale. It’s beautiful.”

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