My American Legion story isn’t about a season many years ago here in Spokane. In fact, it’s not about me. It’s about my son, Max Parada and a truly remarkable season that ended last weekend in Anacortes, Washington at the State Championships.
Max played this year for Alex Scheurman and the American Legion AA Mt. Spokane Wild. Wonderful program, awesome coach, great teammates, fun parents.They had a very good team this year, finishing first in the North Division in the Spokane AA National League.
In the State Tourney last week they had a very good run, making it to the quarter finals before losing to Burlington on Friday night. Max didn’t hit a walk off homer or a game saving catch. He didn’t strike out a batter with the bases loaded to end the game. Instead, he pitched the last couple of innings of a game that was pretty much decided before he came in. In baseball terms, some would call it mop up duty, but Max never looked at it that way. But to me, a lifelong baseball fan, it capped an amazing comeback season by my favorite baseball player of all time.
One year ago, on June 3, 2009, Max suffered a serious head injury on the practice field the first week of Single A with the Wild. His coach, while hitting fungos off the outfield walls, accidently lined a baseball off the side of his head from a short distance. Max went to one knee and with the coach’s help, made it to the dugout. They alertly called my wife, Theresa, and told her Max was hurt. She drove quickly to Mt. Spokane High School, picked up Max, then rushed to the emergency room at Holy Family Hospital. At the time, I was across the street at Franklin Park, where I was coaching my other son in a baseball tournament, and met them in the parking lot.
Max was lucid, trying to make light of the bump that was building on the side of his head. After a CAT scan, the diagnosis: multiple skull fractures with bleeding under the skull and in the brain, possible surgery. We spent a restless night in ICU. At 5:30 the next morning, a second scan indicated excessive bleeding and swelling. Max was whisked into surgery. His neurosurgeon, Dr. Cynthia Hahn, operated. She had to open to skull over his right eye to remove a large hematoma that had formed from the bleeding to prevent permanent brain damage.
Max now sports an indelible impression of the injury: seven titanium plates in his head, one of them four inches long, and a nine-inch crescent shaped scar from just below his sideburn to the top of his forehead. Ironically, his shaved forehead looked like a baseball, but instead of red threads, he had 35 staples in his head for a seam. He spent five days in the hospital, four in ICU. Family, friends, and people all over the country were praying for him.
Max had big plans for that summer- American Legion baseball on both A and AA, getting his driver’s license, a job as a lifeguard, camping at the lake. All of it had to be put hold during his recovery. He spent much of the first month after the injury in bed.
There was the potential for seizures and a restriction against all the normal activities of summer for an active teenager. No boating, swimming, bike riding or sports.
For months he suffered from near constant headaches, but all Max could think about was getting back on the baseball field. He tried to go to some of the team’s games, but he was simply too tired to make it more than a couple of innings. His teammates “oohed and awed” his huge, cool scar, but watching other kids playing the game while he was side-lined was more painful that the headaches he suffered.
Each checkup with Dr. Hahn, he asked if he could start hitting and throwing, he longed to make it back before the season ended. Unfortunately, there were setbacks, and some bleeding. His season was over. Because of the two major injuries, he only played four games between his high school team and Legion teams schedules that year. He ended up missing more than 50 games.
When Max was hit, he never lost consciousness, he never cried. Throughout the ordeal, he never complained or felt sorry for himself. He simply focused on what it would take to get back on the field. Dr. Hahn cleared him to start light workouts in September. He managed to hit a dozen baseballs off a tee the first day back before the exhaustion and headaches set in, a far cry from the 100 he habitually hit daily before the injury.
By October, he was starting to run again, and was getting his strength back. He started working the Legion camp at the Warehouse in November, and by December he was back to his full workout schedule. In February, the season started in the gym at Mt. Spokane High School. Sporting a John Olerud look, he had to wear a protective helmet at all times on the field and in the dugout.
As a player, Max has always been defined more by heart than talent. He was usually one of the smallest players on the team, never the fastest or the strongest, and his arm was average on a good day. In baseball vernacular, he would be considered ‘scrappy’. He was able to compete because he simply worked harder than everybody else. Each time he reached a new level and the competition would increase, he would surprise me. He was never a star, sometimes a platoon or role player, but somehow he managed to contribute in some way. He always got the most out of the talent he was blessed with. This type of character has taken him a long way, and served him well through this trial.
In spring of this year, his hard work paid off. He played a full schedule for the Mt. Spokane High School junior varsity and Mt. Spokane American Legion AA free from injury. No headaches, no dizziness, and no balance issues. Everyone’s prayers were answered.
He wasn’t the best hitter or pitcher, or a Gold Glove infielder, and that’s OK, we were just grateful he was playing. But there were some highlights. He held Shadle to no hits and no runs for 4 1/3 in his first start of the season, mostly on a variety of slow curves, changeups, and 55 mile an hour fastballs in the dirt. He always seemed to strike out the cleanup hitters looking on a big slow 12/6 breaking ball. That was fun and we would laugh about on the drive home.
He crushed one ball 350 feet to the right center wall at Shadle during the Regionals for a standup double, and made some great diving plays at second. But really, there were thousands of players with similar or even better seasons across the country playing the game of baseball. To most others, it was a fairly unremarkable season. But to me it was one of the most remarkable seasons ever.
After the last game of the season was over in Anacortes, the sun was setting and the coaches and players had broken their huddle, and were gathering their gear one last time. Parents were shaking hands, saying goodbye until next season, and I looked over and saw Max standing alone in right field gazing at the field. He picked some grass, and smelled it, as if it helped to remember the moment. I am certain that he is beginning to realize, that the end of his baseball playing days are nearing with only his senior year left.
Playing time with the varsity next year is going to be hard to come by, and it was clear he didn’t want to forget the feeling of being in uniform, on a baseball field, with his teammates, around the game he loves.I don’t know who is going to miss him playing more, him or me.
I walked over to where he was standing and he said “Dad, this is it. That was the last season I get to play American Legion.”
All I could think of to say was “Yes, Max, and what a great one it was.”