Twice Devastated, Twice Restored
Two college baseball teammates with spinal cord injuries inspire players and coaches.
Written By Bill Sanders
Photography By Louie Favorite
Under a bright, and unseasonably warm January sun in Athens, Ga., Chance Veazey sat in the University of Georgia baseball team’s dugout chatting with teammates, all of whom were equally amazed that the first day of baseball practice, on a January afternoon, really could feel like spring.
A comfortable ease permeated the day, one that the Georgia baseball team hasn’t felt for at least two years.
“There is no place I’d rather be than here with my best friends, guys I love, guys who have sweat together, bled together and cried together and have become like family,” says Chance, 21, of Tifton, Ga. “No place I’d rather be than right here, right now.”
Chance was supposed to be entering his third season as the University of Georgia’s starting second baseman, and he might have been just a few months away from being drafted to play professional baseball.
Instead, he’s learning to live life after a paralyzing injury. Chance sustained a T-10 to -11 complete spinal cord injury in a motorized scooter accident on campus in fall 2009. Today, he is living a life he had not planned. And so is his teammate, 22-year-old Johnathan “JT” Taylor of Acworth, Ga.
JT might have been the starting centerfielder for Georgia this season as a senior. More likely though, he would have been in Athens doing some last-minute training before heading to a professional baseball team’s spring training camp. The best college players are drafted after their junior season. And JT had all the skills to be one of the best.
“Everyone wants to get drafted after their junior year,” JT says. “I’m not sure what my projections were last year, but thankfully, I was drafted by the Texas Rangers. That caught me by surprise, and I can’t thank them enough.”
JT was caught by surprise because Major League Baseball teams don’t usually draft players who cannot walk.
Centerfielder JT, and his best friend, left fielder, Zach Cone, collided in the outfield in early March 2011 while both were tracking a line drive hit left-center. They both dove for the ball, and JT’s head hit Zach’s hip. Zach jumped up immediately, but JT did not, recalls Head Coach Dave Perno.
“We sat there for a minute, thinking, ‘OK, JT, get up. Get up.” Perno says. “Then when I got there, he was conscious, but he couldn’t move.” Perno recalls thinking, “There is no way this can happen again.”