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Brandyn's ball game

    Brandyn Bradford loves sports.
    At 10 years old, the Stilson Elementary School student can sit and talk sports with the best of ’em. But this spring, Brandyn decided it was time to stop talking sports, and time to start playing them. He went right up to his parents and asked if he could play baseball. The answer wasn’t an immediate ‘yes’.
    “We’d never been faced with that question before,” said his mother Teresa Bradford. “I really didn’t know what to tell him because we had had chats before about being a football player, and I told him, ‘Son, there are just some things you can’t do.’”
    Brandyn was born with Spina Bifida and VATER syndrome. The conditions have paralyzed him from the waist down and put him in a wheelchair.
    “I saw his name on the list, so I figured I should call and talk with (Teresa),” said Dadrian Cosby, a family friend for seven years and  Statesboro-Bulloch County Parks and Recreation’s Youth Athletic Supervisor. “We both discussed the limitations, what it was going to be like. We tried to figure out ways in which we wanted him to play.”
    Spina Bifida — a condition that affects one in 1,000 newborns each year — is a congenital defect in which one or more vertebrae fail to form a complete vertebral arch for enclosure of the spinal cord. Certain cases, as is Brandyn’s, cause permanent nerve damage, paralyzing the lower limbs. VATER Syndrome is an acronym (Vertebrae, Anus, Trachea, Esophagus and Renal) in which a child may have abnormalities in any of five different areas. Brandon was born missing his left fibula and has had 17 total surgeries since birth.
    “I was scratching my head,” said head coach Kip Carter of that first day of practice when Brandyn rolled up. “How are we going to get Brandyn in the game and how are we going to do this? Brandyn just looked at me and said, ‘Coach, all I can do is try my best.’”
    Teresa, Carter and Cosby decided to let Brandyn be a designated hitter, but it would be up to him to get down to first base. Once there, a courtesy runner would be allowed to take over for Brandyn.
    The first few times in front of the pitching machine were easy for Brandyn, but maybe not so much for Teresa.
    “I had to leave the park,” she said, having been told the machine isn’t 100 percent accurate 100 percent of the time.
    Brandyn, however, took it all in stride.
    “I thought it would come up there real fast,” he recalled. “But it wasn’t that bad.”
    The rest, they say, is history.
    Brandyn joined the Kiwanis Club of Statesboro Mariners and helped lead the M’s to an undefeated championship season. His brother Jayson takes some credit in aiding his younger sibling’s success. Jayson and Brandyn spent hours at home — albeit inside the house — practicing with plastic bats and plastic balls. The two brothers have since been banned from playing ball indoors.
    At Stilson Elementary, Brandyn makes all As and Bs, and is the star pitcher on the kickball team during recess. He already has dreams of being a part — in some capacity — of the high school football team. One day, he hopes to be a football coach.
    With an infectious smile and a knowledge of the game that rivals the experts, the coaches have come to refer to Brandyn as their “Secret Weapon”, as opposing teams become so focused on retiring ‘the kid in a wheelchair’ they often ignore other runners rounding the bases.
    That scenario was never more apparent during Friday night’s 20-5 championship win against the Royals. In front of television cameras, photographers, reporters and a big crowd, Brandyn never flinched under the pressure.
    After teammate Ryan Robertson led off the top of the fourth with a triple, Brandyn came to the plate with a golden RBI opportunity.
    On the second pitch, Brandyn struck a ball back to the pitcher. Robertson was safe on the throw back to the plate, sliding into home, while Brandyn pushed for first. The Royal defense failed to make a good throw to the bag, and for just the second time all season, Brandyn made it safely aboard. The crowd went nuts.
    “I felt real happy,” Brandyn said. “I just like playing with my friends. We have a pretty good defense and some good hitters — and really awesome coaches.”
    Up against the fence in his chair in the dugout, Brandyn continued to lead cheers, offer advice and watch the game he’s come to love until the final out of the season was made Friday. When it was all over, he received the game ball.
    “To see a kid that’s in his situation — every time he gets up he’s pretty much going to put the ball in play,” said Carter. “We’ve put him right in there and it’s worked out really well. The team really rallied around him.”
    Next season Brandyn will be of age to hit against live pitching, but his mother isn’t quite sure how that will go. All she knows now is her son is having the time of his life.
    “He’s having a ball,” said Teresa. “He just loves being part of the team.”

The 13-0 Minor League Champion Mariners include: Jake Snyder, Wesley Gresham, Klay Carter, Andrew Stansell, Cliff Hudson, Trevor Mason, Kyle Coto, Ryan Robertson, Alan Upchurch, Justin and Jeremy Johnson, Jacob and Jonathan Volskay and Brandyn Bradford.

    Chad Bishop can be reached at (912) 489-9408.

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