Doug Curlee | Editor at Large
Will Baker, at the age of 8, was already hooked on baseball, and dreaming of joining the pitching staff of his favorite major league baseball team — the Boston Red Sox — maybe as a right-handed pitcher.
Fast forward to 2018, and you’ll see Will Baker thinking of doing it as a left-handed pitcher.
There’s an unpleasant story behind that switch, and it has to do with the mysterious, polio-like disease that has hit more than 200 people in 31 states.
It’s called acute flaccid myelitis, and it hit Will in 2014 — robbing the 8-year-old the use of his right arm.
“I couldn’t throw or use my hand or arm for anything” he remembers. “I couldn’t even use my fingers to pick up anything.”
The virus — if that’s what it turns out to be — mainly seems to affect the young, although adults are not immune. Several people have died, while some people seem to be ever so slowly recovering, at least partially.
A litany of hospital and doctor visits didn’t seem to be doing Will much good, because doctors and researchers really didn’t know how to treat it.
Its main target appears to be nerve tissue, and that’s where Will’s family decided to attack it. They wound up at Johns Hopkins on the East Coast, one of America’s premier treatment and research facilities and finally got a diagnosis
Will eventually underwent surgery at Rady’s Children Hospital. Surgeons took healthy nerve tissue from Will’s calf and left hand and built a sort of nerve bridge around his neck to his right shoulder, hoping that would help the right arm recover.
“It’s starting to work a little,” Will said. “I can move my fingers some now, and maybe it’ll keep getting better. I sure hope so.”
So back to his Red Sox dreams.
“I just decided that if I’m gonna play baseball, I’d have to learn to do it left-handed, so I just started trying to throw left-handed. I think it’s getting a little better all the time. I’d like to at least be able to play high school baseball at Patrick Henry.”
It’s getting better enough that Will, now 12, can play in developmental leagues for kids coming out of Little League and moving on to the bigger fields.
Will plays first base, and occasionally steps on the mound to pitch He wears his glove on the left hand, catches the ball, then quickly drops the glove, grabs the ball and throws it.
I watched him play a game, and he’s very good at it. Batting is still a problem, but that’s getting better, too.
Will is very cognizant of people like Jim Abbott, who was born without a right hand, yet pitched well in the major leagues for 10 years, including one no-hitter.
Will may never play for the Boston Red Sox, but if he doesn’t, it won’t be for lack of trying.
—Reach Doug Curlee at firstname.lastname@example.org.