Baseball for Life

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Baseball for Life

Jarrod Petree has spent his whole life throwing. The first things he threw, according to his mother, were assorted toys and a fair amount of food from the highchair. Before long, he moved on to throwing balls. Some babies, of course, are throwers. But from the very start, Jarrod had an especially determined arm. At least this is the view taken by his father, Tim, who played Division II baseball at the Florida Institute of Technology in the late 80’s, graduating only a few years before his son was born: the kid basically arrived on earth wanting to throw.

Tim, meanwhile, was a catch-and-throw guy, a pitcher with a kind of corny arm-strength that makes even that gesture look painfully embarrassing. Tim says that Jarrod never let up—through six years of gym class, with, at times, a circus act of coaches and physical therapists around him. “It was the constant constant encouragement from a young age that really got him through,” Tim says. “He didn’t start off catching well, so it was all effort for him. It was always, ‘Push, push, push, push, push, push.'”

When Jarrod was nine, the Petrees realized he was gifted, so they sent his information to Major League Baseball and to the Cincinnati Reds, hoping they might sign him. Baseball for Life, a California-based organization founded in 1996, works with baseball-card collectors around the world, first getting them to donate their retired cards to auction and eventually training them to play and coach youth teams. Jarrod was the first child signed up.

Jarrod, at age 8, shows off his collection in baseball for life’s main office in Long Beach. (Raycom Media) Jarrod, at age 8, shows off his collection in baseball for life’s main office in Long Beach. (Raycom Media)

To stay on track, his parents sent him to a trainer named Matt Koski, who worked with Tim in his college days. Koski had fallen in love with softball and became frustrated that she wasn’t good enough to compete at the college level, so she became a softball coach. Now, she had another vocation: teaching baseball players how to become good coaches, which was new territory for her. But she loved it. “I love the connection to people and the passion,” she says. “It’s all about relationships.”

She got Jarrod in the best physical shape of any nine-year-old ever. He would throw batting practice from behind the cage, then run from foul line to foul line in 60-yard sprints. “He started at 10 to 50 feet,” Koski says. “It’s such a rapid-fire motion, like throwing off the mound, that it worked with his elbow.”

Jarrod played shortstop in his first year of travel ball. The kids wore jerseys that read “BOYD” in big block letters, and, when he hit home runs, their friends often clapped in agreement. The parents were thrilled, too. “People were jumping up and down, ” Tim says. “Like, ‘That’s a baseball player.'”

Jarrod spent much of that year on a back field, shooting foam balls at cones and batting other kids’ balls. Soon, he was pitching, but after one pitch, he collapsed in pain. He was diagnosed with dysplastic left-elbow dysplasia, a rare congenital condition that is a precursor to osteochondrosis. The club doctor advised him not to throw again until the condition resolved. For weeks, the Petrees could only watch.

It took almost two years. He finally played his first game after undergoing surgery and continued to be his team’s strongest player. “It was good to see him be able to pitch again,” Tim says. “It was really tough to watch him going through the pain.”

The other team did not have many lefties, and Jarrod, as you might imagine, got a lot of pitches to hit. “He would take eight or nine swings a day in the batting cage, and he was just really going to town,” Tim says. “That was when he was really getting the swing. And we were all just like, ‘Wow.'”

 

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