CARY, N.C. -– As Tyler Wilson took his cuts in the batting cage, Lander teammate Jay Robinson was a few yards away helping shag fly balls in the outfield.
From every outward appearance, they appeared to be just another couple of ballplayers preparing to do battle here in the NCAA Division II baseball World Series. And the fact is, that’s exactly what they were.
But then there’s the story behind the story. Wilson and Robinson are fortunate to be playing for a national championship, but not just in a baseball sense. Both are lucky to be alive.
The school nurse called his dad, who came to pick him up. Once they got home, things only got worse. His face was pale white, and when his dad tried to pick him up, his body went limp.
Airlifted to Greenville Memorial Hospital in South Carolina, Wilson underwent tests that revealed a severe case of pneumococcal meningitis – an infection that causes swelling to the lining of the brain and spinal cord.
“I stopped breathing on my own that night,” Wilson said. “The doctor tried to put me on a respirator, and my dad looked at him and said, ‘If God wants him to die, he’ll die tonight and if God wants him to live, he’ll live.’”
As astounding as it may seem, Wilson says that he could hear his dad’s voice throughout the ordeal.
“My dad sat there right beside my bed and told me to breathe in and breathe out,” Wilson continued. “The doctors told my parents, ‘Listen, it doesn’t look good. You probably need to start making arrangements. He’s probably not going to make it through the night.”
The indescribable despair of that darkest night gave way to the early morning light. A doctor came into Wilson’s room the next morning and asked his father how the youngster was doing.
He’ll talk to you.
The doctor didn’t believe it, because Wilson had been near death just a few hours before. Wilson’s dad told the physician to give it a try so he could see for himself.
He’s unconscious. You’re gonna have to yell at him.
The doctor bent down and got right next to Wilson’s ear.
Do you know where you are?
I’m guessing I’m in the hospital.
How bad is your headache?
Probably an 8.75.
Wilson’s recovery was remarkable from there on out, and he says that within a month, he was pretty much back to normal.
“The doctors would bring in twenty doctors a day to look at me, because nobody could believe I was alive,” Wilson said. “It’s been a wild journey. It’s definitely been something you never would think was possible.
“I came from laying in a deathbed and now I’m with this team from Greenwood that everybody said would never amount to anything, and we’re in the [DII championship]. You know what I mean? It’s something miraculous, for sure.”
It was almost at the same age in 2003 – Robinson was 12 at the time – when he was diagnosed with a tumor that had wrapped itself around the base of his brain. He went from a hospital in Charlotte all the way to New York City for treatments – he actually saw someone stabbed while in the Big Apple.
At one point, his parents Pam and Chris Robinson, were given the very same advice as Wilson’s. They might need to prepare for the worst, because it was an all-too ugly possibility.
“Duke Hospital had actually told my parents to take me home and prepare, because in six months, I would be dead,” said Robinson, who has made six appearances this year for the Bearcats as a relief pitcher. “They thought they couldn’t do any more.”
Multiple rounds of radiation hammered the sixth grade, but only once did he miss any baseball. Nothing was going to stop him from playing, not even cancer.
“I had surgery in Charlotte, and I was out [of the hospital] two days later,” Robinson said. “We had all-stars for Little League, and they told me I couldn’t participate. That’s the only time it’s kept me from playing baseball.”
Robinson would have treatments early in the morning and then go to school. Understandably tired, he would sleep before heading to the field.
“I would sleep most of the days, because it just drained me so much,” he continued. “Having to go to school and baseball and basketball or whatever sport I was playing at the time, I just had to work around. I wasn’t willing to give up baseball.”
His condition was monitored closely, and now that he’s been pronounced healthy, Robinson doesn’t have to deal with any more treatments, doctors, hospitals or anything of the sort.
“It’s so relieving,” he said. “It’s so hard being an active baseball player playing year-round, and you have to uproot what you’re doing at that point to go two or three hours away just to get an MRI to check on things. You always worry about it coming back. It’s hard to think about it. I try not to.”
Theirs is a shared storied, one Wilson and Robinson have discussed while rooming together on the road.
“It’s pretty fun to know you’ve got a guy that’s gone through the same stuff, he’s a miracle child just like you are,” Wilson said. “I think his is probably a little bit worse, considering the fact he had to deal with it for more than two weeks like me. Mine was kind of short and sweet, and then it was pretty much over. He had to deal with his for years and years.
“That kid’s a fighter. That’s pretty much what we’re based around. Our whole team’s a bunch of fighters, a bunch of kids who just came out and wanted to do something that nobody said they could. That’s pretty much Lander. We’re a family. We’re just here battling and trying to make it happen, to bring a trophy back to Greenwood.”