Editor’s Note: Sports Feel Good Stories is proud to include an excerpt from Barry Milazzo’s All the King’s Horses – Finding Purpose and Hope in Brokenness and Impossibility.
Barry Milazzo’s son Bryson suffered a catastrophic medical brain injury after his 8-month vaccinations. Barry was told his son would never walk or speak. But sports became Bryson’s motivator; his exercises and treatments were engineered around sports, and by age 10 he had achieved the impossible — he could walk independently, and speak well.
Excerpt from Barry Milazzo’s All the King’s Horses
Field of Dreams
Irrespective of his weakened condition, my irrepressible son began to ask about playing baseball as the next spring approached. He had heard some of his classmates talking about it on one of the days he was well enough to attend school. I needed to call to find out about this, and I began to get anxious about describing his circumstances to the rec officials in our new town. I was fearful that a decision might be made to exclude him on the basis of liability, or in the interests of other kids who aspired to excel in athletics.
Beyond that, how could I possibly describe a child who believed with all his heart he would play for the Yankees one day, though he couldn’t even walk independently, a child who still didn’t even understand he was handicapped? It was with more trepidation than for any business deal that I telephoned George Shafer one evening, the president of the Kinnelon Baseball Association. To my relief, George assured me he would do everything possible to see that Bryson would not only be included, but welcomed. He went a step further. He put Bryson on his own team, making me his assistant coach.
Bryson wasn’t well enough to participate in every game that season, but I was thankful he was strong enough for opening day. It’s hard for me to imagine anything keeping him from the field that gorgeous Saturday afternoon. Some of his friends from school were his teammates, and he gloried in every aspect of being on that team. He was so excited as I helped him put on his uniform, and he couldn’t wait for the game. We arrived at the field an hour early (I guess I couldn’t wait either).
The start of a new baseball season is a field of dreams for everyone, young and old. The noise and banter throughout the field that day was what you might expect on such a joyous occasion. Parents, grandparents, siblings, and many others were there to cheer on these rookies. As for my rookie, he was raring to go; and I can’t adequately describe the pride I had in him on this day.
My anxiety became extremely high as Bryson’s first time at bat drew near. Those horrible regression patterns had kept him from being as ready as I had hoped. But this was the furthest thing from my son’s mind as he waited on deck. Finally his turn came, and with great effort he approached home plate. The noise throughout the ballpark became hushed. It was obvious the player coming to bat was struggling to remain upright.
He had decided he didn’t want me helping him to get into the batter’s box, nor helping him hit the ball, as we had done countless times in the yard. He was going to do it just like his teammates. But his recent illnesses had taken their toll. Down he went, crashing to the ground before he even reached the plate. The other players and the fans pretended not to notice, but the crowd became quieter still.
With great difficulty he rose, finally taking his stand at home plate. I wasn’t surprised. I knew it would take more than a fall to take the heart out of this champion. As always, Bryson copied the behaviors of his peers in vivid detail. As he settled into the batter’s box, after struggling to maintain his balance once more, his stance became a beautiful replication of his heroes on TV.
Though Bryson was nine, this was a league where the coaches pitched overhand to the batters, most of whom were seven or eight. George wisely moved closer to the plate to underhand the ball to a place where he hoped Bryson might get his bat on it. Knowing his difficulty with depth perception, George held up the ball and kept it still for a few seconds as Bryson focused his eyes on it. But after numerous swings and misses to each underhand pitch (this was a non-strikeout league), George called me to the mound as the relief pitcher, knowing that I knew best where his swing would be.
You want to talk nervous? As Bryson stood in his perfect stance awaiting my first pitch against the pin drop silence, I felt the pressure of a pitcher in the World Series with the bases loaded. It was so hard to get the ball to go where I knew my son’s swing would be. Pitch after pitch after pitch was awkwardly missed, as Bryson struggled to maintain his balance. Finally, he went down once again, and his bat went flying as his body sprawled awkwardly into the dirt of the batter’s box. My heart leaped to my throat, and I ran in to him, but he quickly made it clear he wanted no help as he struggled to get off the ground.
I pleaded in my mind for him to get up, as one does for a felled boxer as the referee counts. My son slowly pushed himself back up. I retrieved his bat, and handing it to him I whispered in his ear, “You can do this, champ!” The crowd was respectful and silent as he settled back in his stance, but everyone was feeling the anxiety now. I don’t advocate praying for outcomes at sporting events, but I don’t think I’ve ever prayed harder.
Finally it happened! His bat touched the ball and it went dribbling weakly in front of the plate. Bryson took off toward first, falling down almost immediately after leaving the batter’s box. He fell yet again on his way to first, as the players in the field pretended not to be able to field the ball. With great enthusiasm he scrambled up as quickly as he could each time. At long last, he reached the base and the umpire yelled, “Safe!” Several players on both teams congratulated him, and he received a warm ovation from the crowd. His tenacity and courage had touched them all deeply.
And so the great Hero gave us yet another chapter to lift up in thanksgiving and praise on that glorious afternoon. He stood on first beaming. Ever the dreamer, in his mind he knew he had come through for his team. I swallowed hard, not wanting others to notice my tears. This was Bryson’s moment. But no one in that crowd could possibly know how hard he had struggled to reach that base. They saw his moments of struggle. As I watched my jubilant son standing on that base, I saw the anguish and pain of a decade.
The rest of Bryson’s season went pretty much as I’ve described. When he was well enough to play, he fell down between each base, but he was one thrilled ballplayer each time he crossed home plate, which he did several times that year. Sadly, his illnesses began forcing him to miss more games toward the end of the season, revealing just how sick he was becoming. He’d have done anything to be at those games.
I was beginning to understand how Paul could say he was filled with comfort and overflowing with joy, and in the very next sentence say that he was afflicted on every side, having conflicts without and fears within (2 Cor. 7:4–5). Clearly, the battle never, ever ends in this world. Not until the revelation of one final, breathtaking chapter in the greatest story ever told, which I promised to tell you about.
That chapter makes it clear that, one day, after all our struggles are over here, our Hero will return. This time He is coming not to suffer and die for our sin and shame. This time He is coming as an invincible King, who will bind up our wounds, and carry us home. He will wipe away every tear from our eyes on that great day; and every grief, every loss we’ve ever suffered in this world will be remembered no more.
John Kinsella got it right. Heaven is the place where dreams, the dreams that really matter, will finally come true. It will all happen in a twinkling, in the blink of an eye. Oh yes, our Hero is coming back one day. Be of good courage. Take heart! Our salvation is much nearer now, than the day we first believed (Rom. 13:11).
You can purchase All the King’s Horses at Amazon.