KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) – Gatlinburg-Pittman head baseball coach Tye Marshall wanted to setup something special for one of his team managers, Brody Wood, letting him step up to the plate for once.
Brody’s first at bat made for a moment that was truly bigger than the game itself.
Marshall is a special education teacher at Gatlinburg-Pittman and met Brody around five years ago as one of his teachers. Once Brody entered junior high, Marshall thought involving him in baseball would be good for him and the team.
“The way he interacts with those kids in the dugout, you don’t really see that at school,” said Marshall. “When he’s up here, it’s like a different environment and he can express himself a little bit different than he normally would.”
Brody is 12 years old and has nonverbal autism and epilepsy. Although he does not verbally express himself, Brody’s mother Michelle Wood says she, too, notices a difference in Brody’s behavior after getting involved in baseball.
“You want your child to be happy and Brody can’t say I’m happy, but I know that he’s happy. They’re taking good care of him up here,” said Michelle Wood.
Brody’s involvement with baseball also helps the players, inspiring them to push through hardships and teaches them lessons that go beyond the ballpark.
“It’s great for them to teach them life lessons that they wouldn’t normally get to around baseball,” said Marshall. “That’s what it’s about. I’m trying to teach these boys that it’s more than just baseball, it’s life lessons too.”
“I mean it’s out of this world, just the things that he [Brody] can do, in this world just like everybody else. He’s a great guy I like being one of the ones to help change his outlook on life and help him for the better,” said Highlanders junior right fielder Branson James.
“It makes me want to be a better person, I want to be something greater with him out here,” said Highlanders junior center fielder Houston Byrd.
Michelle says she often found herself asking the question, “why.” Why Brody is not able to talk, why the health concerns with a possible tumor? But she finds solace in knowing Brody inspires others to be kind and caring.
“I talked with one of the other moms and she said her son was saying, “Mom, you just don’t know, we take so much for granted’ We do,” said Michelle. “Everything has a purpose, and you don’t always understand, but there’s always a reason and God knows the reason. Maybe this is Brody’s purpose to touch people’s lives like that. It means a lot.”
On April 20 during the Highlanders game against Union County, Brody touched everyone’s lives in the ballpark.
Marshall reached out to Union County’s head baseball coach Josh Orrick asking if it was “OK” to a special thing for Brody to open the game. Without hesitation, Orrick was in and had the team sign a baseball to help make the moment in the making extra special.
With the help of the umpire, the opposing head coaches, players and fans in the stands that day, Brody got his chance to play ball.
Union County took the field first despite being the visiting team to allow Brody to open the game as the Highlanders leadoff hitter. With the help of Branson and Houston, Brody hit the ball off the tee that counted for an inside-the-park home run. Brody rounded the bases, running home with a big smile on his face. Once he was called safe he was swallowed by his teammates as fans cheered, making for a moment that was bigger than the game.
“It was kind a like you won, you won!” said Michelle Wood. “He was happy. We know it. I hate it they [Gatlinburg-Pittman] didn’t win the game that night, but they won. It was just a big win for everybody sitting here, they were just on top of the world for those few minutes.”
The home run hit home for Orrick, who just welcomed a baby girl into the world: Evie Rose Orrick.
Evie has down syndrome and around a month and a half old, she is still in the hospital battling a few health issues that require surgery.
With Evie heavy on his heart, Orrick said getting the chance to be the team that day to help assist in Brody’s big moment was meant to be.
“It’s like the stars aligned that day for us to be there and for us, Union County, high school to be the team that was there to help out in that situation,” said Orrick. “It was like God was speaking to us and lining everything up for us to be there, it really touched my heart in a big way.”
While Brody’s homer did not count towards the final score, it did score big in other ways.
“It just let me know that no matter what happens, you’re going to have communities and you’re going to have people that will rally around you during your hardest and most difficult times,” said Orrick.
Brody gained a lifelong fan in Orrick that day, who says he will continue to check on Brody and the Woods. Brody’s baseball career is not over yet as Marshall says he anticipates having Brody around Gatlinburg-Pittman high school baseball for years to come.
The Woods are undergoing further testing on June 15 at Vanderbilt Medical for more information on Brody’s possible tumor.