This is my story.
As some of you may or may not know (not sure if I mentioned it before on here,) I am a police officer in Baltimore City. Yes, I was there for the riots. Yes, I did the 12 hour shifts right by the CNN famous Penn North location, for 7 straight days. Lucky me. In December of 2015, I was severely hurt in an accident while going to help another officer in a fight. Hurt enough to be out of work for several months at the time. That is when Workman’s Comp started screwing me around.
When you are used to a routine, getting up, getting ready, putting on gear and realizing that each day may be the day that someone you are talking to or someone you might not even see comes up behind you and kills you, or tries to take out you and your coworkers, and now that is taken away and the doctors and insurance adjusters in your case feel like you are faking your injury, when you wake up everyday in more pain than the last, fighting just to have some semblance of a life, it wears on you. Sitting at home, doing nothing, can only go so far. Luckily, that is where Frederick Keys baseball, and eventually Austin Wynns, comes into play.
From February to June, I was a complete wreck. Phone calls. Appointments. Therapy. Pain. Pain from moving. Pain from standing still. Pain from sitting. Pain from being painful. Doubting what was going on, doubting if I was even really injured, and replaying what happened over and over and over again. Thinking “what if.”
In late April, I walked down the little grassy hill on the first base foul side in Nymeo Field (Frederick Keys) towards the Keys bullpen. The same hill I had spent the several years playing on when I was a kid. I had been to several games before this during the season and had started having some favorite players. One was Wynns. I was never much of an autograph person, but I walked down and saw him and Jonah Heim warming up. I ended up getting both of their autographs. Then, about a month later in Bowie, Wynns was there, having just been called up earlier that day. I was the only one that recognized him and ended up saying “hi” to him and having a short conversation, mainly a “congrats on getting called to Bowie” and a “good luck.”
At this point, I was still living a surreal, living nightmare. The pain was increasing, I was losing movement and the doctor that the insurance company had given me was less than caring. Work only cared about why I wasn’t back at work yet. No matter how much I told the doctor that his treatments weren’t working, all I could hear was “oh well. You’ll have to live with it.” In my job, that would mean I wouldn’t HAVE a job. Regardless, I couldn’t just sit around the house. My self-prescription was more baseball. Further trips.
Hello Norfolk! At this point, I figure a longer drive to a different state and stadium would help clear my mind. Setting out at a lovely 4 am for Norfolk, I was intent on making it to a blistering hot 12:05 PM game. I arrive right before the gates open and get an alert on my phone. Austin Wynns had been called up to Norfolk the day before. I walk in and there is only 1 player on the field at this time, stretching and getting ready in the scorching stadium. Too tired to notice the pain and heat, I made my way down towards the field and called out to him. He stopped and came over. “Hey Austin, did you steal my schedule or something?” “Nah, the Orioles might have, though.” We chat for a bit and end with the usual “congrats on getting to Norfolk and good luck.” He drives in the only run of the game. The 5 hour drive back actually seems to go by quickly as things seem better.
Not but 2 weeks later, several things happen. Wynns comes back to Frederick, Jonah Heim is traded away, and Wynston Sawyer gets injured. Wynns is now the starting catcher for Frederick during a time that, whether by fate or coincidence, Frederick is the team with the most home games that week. By this point, Workmans Comp has stopped with the payments, the job has been sending me to their doctor, who is sending his “reports” to HR, which in turn sends me a letter that tells me I can’t do my job, so it might be time to leave. I’m still fighting to find a doctor that will listen and treat me, instead of dismissing me because they are being paid by the insurance company. Coworkers have stopped even checking on me, I’ve been ignoring family and friends because I feel like no one really cares. I miss some games because of appointments and a general apathy to wanting to go out or even be around people. Finally, I get the stubbornness to go to another Keys game, as the drive up 70 is soothing.
Wynns is starting, as he is the only catcher on the roster at the time. Mercedes hasn’t yet packed his bags from Delmarva and Zack Kapstein appears to be a player only on paper. I head back down the familiar hill again, slightly hoping I slip on the slope and crack my head open on the rocks nearby and can finally get the medical attention. Instead, I make it down safely as Wynns is putting his gear on. This time, he speaks first. “Hey man, haven’t seen you in a bit. Everything ok?” Maybe it was a long day. Maybe it was the “everything ok?” Maybe it was the childhood version of me popping out, giddy. Whatever it was, I explained to him about my job and my injury as he stretched. He could have easily just have ignored me, or cut me off, or whatever. Even when the starting pitcher came out, Wynns waved him off for a bit to listen. He added some words here in there, thanked me for what I do, then walked over to the fence, shook my hand and said “keep me up to date and I hope things go well for you. Good luck.”
With that simple act, the weight of the world seemed to fall off. I’m not an emotional person, but I damn near broke down right there. For the first time in months, it felt like someone cared. I would love to say that he hit a home run that night. It was actually 2 weeks later and I got it.
During the next few weeks, I would talk to him and keep him up to date as things finally seemed to be progressing. Then, in the middle of one game, I got a call. New doctor, new test results. Come in and schedule the surgery needed so I could get my normal life and career back. I told Austin on the concourse and got another handshake and a “you’re a great guy. Keep doing you and you’ll get through it just fine.” Also got a bat from him that night and I gave him one of my business cards. He got called up to Norfolk the next day. We ended up friending each other on Instagram. Didn’t think much of it, but was happy. Then, moments after surgery, the fiancé took my picture of me in the hospital bed, sling and all, and all hooked up, with me giving a barely coherent thumbs up. This picture ended up on Instagram. While waiting in the car for the fiancé to get my medicine, I got an alert that someone had liked my picture. The person that had been kind to me all season when he had no obligation to be, who gave a few words of encouragement that seemed to take the weight off, the person who seemed to be in the right place at the right time, liked the picture. A very small gesture, but after everything I had gone through, it meant (and still means) the most to me.
That is why, no matter what, I will always root for him. Whether it is with the Orioles or with another team, I will be there for the first game he plays. He earned a fan for life, for being himself.