Fateful foul brings family, player together
Lives altered after liner struck boy at Minor League game
NILES, Ohio -- Over the public-address speaker, the announcer rattled off the facts printed on Luke Holko's baseball card, which had been handed out to the fans who filed into Eastwood Field for a Class A game between Mahoning Valley and Aberdeen.His favorite foods? Cheese, chicken wings, tacos, hot dogs and salad with ranch dressing. Favorite movies? "Shrek," "Cars" and "Open Season." Favorite hobbies? Baseball, wrestling, playing cards, Mario Kart and bike riding. All the things that define 5-year-old Luke's personality. All the things nearly robbed from him by one fateful foul ball. It has been nearly a year since Luke was struck in the back of the head at a Mahoning Valley game. On the night of Sept. 2, 2009, emergency workers rushed Luke from Eastwood Field to nearby St. Elizabeth Health Center, and doctors feared the little boy might not make it through the night. Even if Luke survived, loss of motor skills, loss of cognitive function, and, generally speaking, loss of personality were all legitimate possibilities. Yet here was Luke on this splendid summer Sunday, accompanied by his parents, Chad and Nicole, as he threw out a ceremonial first pitch before the Scrappers, a Cleveland Indians affiliate, took the field against the IronBirds in what was dubbed "Luke Holko Night." Luke's right leg wobbled as he walked, and a batting helmet hid the scar on the back of his head. But other than that, he appeared to be a normal little boy on a ballfield. "Normal changes from day to day," Chad said. "We're not back to what normal was before, but we're accepting the new normal." And the Holkos aren't the only ones. A life changed A Bible sat on the chair in front of Ben Carlson's locker in the home clubhouse at Class A Lake County last week. The bats and gloves that surrounded his locker are the tools of his trade, yet that book is what now inspires Carlson, a newly converted Christian. The 22-year-old Carlson, in his first full professional season after being drafted by the Indians in the sixth round last year, has been mired in a season-long slump. But he considers the year to be productive, from a personal standpoint. "I was really struggling in baseball and life, in general," Carlson said. "Baseball can really be a blessing and, other times, it can really beat you up. If you let the adversity and failure get to you, it can really push you down into some places you don't want to be. One day, I just started praying. Ever since that day, miracles have happened in my life." Ben said that prior to this summer, he spent his entire adult life caught up in himself and his accomplishments. Like many who play baseball for a living, he was always the best player on the team growing up, always the one seemingly on the fast track to the big leagues. But things kept happening in Carlson's life that reminded him there is more at play. And nothing shook him like that hanging curveball he yanked into the stands at Eastwood Field last September, when he was a member of the Scrappers. It was a screaming liner that struck Luke, who was seated on his father's lap in the seats just beyond the Mahoning Valley dugout, then dropped directly to the ground. Luke's head had absorbed the full impact. "I hit the ball," Carlson said, "and the whole stands went quiet. It was the quietest moment I've ever heard with thousands of people there." Ben watched as Chad held Luke in his arms and screamed for help. He watched as an EMT worker rushed to the Holkos' section, then guided the family into a tunnel leading to the main concourse. The shocked crowd and the players and coaches hung their heads and prayed, and the quiet was quickly broken up by the sound of an ambulance. After a few minutes, the umpire called for play to resume. Ben struck out. "I just didn't even care at all about baseball," he said. "I didn't know their family or anything at the time. We were getting updates throughout the game on Luke's progress or where he was. There was an EMT guy there that was contacting some of the people at the hospital. Our manager, Travis Fryman, came in after the game and said they didn't know if Luke was going to make it. "My family all called, my friends all called. There were so many people supporting me and trying to cheer me up. But it was almost useless."
|"At first, I walked in the house, and he was so scared he didn't say anything. ... We're eating pizza together, sitting next to each other and getting all messy with the pizza sauce, and all of a sudden we were best friends. By the end, he was crying to his mom because he didn't want me to leave."|
-- Indians prospect|