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Hayes Brock Griffin had his photo taken with ECU's Parker Byrd last week (Photo courtesy of the Griffin family)

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Parker Byrd’s comeback inspires kids across the country

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After physical-education class, 12-year-old Cooper Compton showers with his socks on so that his schoolmates won’t see the part of his right foot that was amputated nearly two years ago.

That’s heartbreaking.

But there were different emotions flowing through the Compton household earlier this month, and “hope” was chief among them.

Cooper was – in the words of his mother – smiling from “ear to ear.”

That’s because East Carolina sophomore Parker Byrd – who had part of his right leg amputated nearly two years ago – made his college debut on Feb. 16, drawing a pinch-hit walk.

“Mom, look at this!” Cooper excitedly texted his mother, Becca, after finding out about Byrd’s at-bat through TikTok. “Parker got to play! Parker got to play!”

Later, when Becca and Cooper — along with his father (Brad) and his brother (Austin) — watched Byrd’s ESPN highlight, the inspiration was palpable.

“See,” Becca told Cooper, “this (injury) doesn’t have to define you.”

Cooper, a pitcher and third baseman, told D1Baseball that he believes he will play big-time college baseball – just like Byrd.

“I’m only missing part of my foot, and Parker is missing more of his leg,” Cooper said.

“If he can do it, I can do it, too.”

Becca Compton said her son didn’t have that type of confidence before Byrd made his comeback.

Byrd has inspired lots of kids, but Cooper is unique. The similarities between his story and that of Byrd are almost supernatural:

• Both of them were boating at the time of their accidents.

• Both of their amputations are on the right side (foot/leg).

• Both of them are baseball players and passionate about their sport.

• And, amazingly, both of them got hurt on the exact same day — July 23, 2022.

“That’s pretty freaking crazy,” Byrd said of the two accidents happening on the same day. “It’s crazy to think how God works, but I believe that everything happens for a reason.”

COOPER’S STORY: PURE COURAGE

On that fateful day in July of 2022, Cooper and his family were enjoying a beautiful day out on Lake Ray Hubbard in their hometown of Rockwall, Texas, which is part of the Dallas metropolitan area.

Cooper was sitting in the back of the boat with his cousin and best buddy, Beau.

Suddenly, the wind picked up, and it shot the tube off the back of the boat. The rope attached to the tube raced at break-neck speed to catch up to the tube. But when that rope was finally taut, it dropped down on Cooper’s right foot, amputating all five of his toes.

Cooper, in unimaginable pain, immediately yelled “Mom!”, and Becca, who is a nurse, leapt into action.

“When I realized what was happening, I went into ‘nurse mode’,” Becca said. “Everyone else froze. I don’t remember a lot, but from what everyone on the boat told me, I started yelling out orders.”

Among those orders were: “Call 911!” and “I need a knife!”

The rope had become embedded in Cooper’s foot, which was a good thing because it kept him from potentially bleeding out. Becca grabbed the knife, cut the rope and wrapped Cooper’s foot in a towel, gripping it tightly.

As the boat sped toward shore and a waiting ambulance, Becca laid her son down.

“Beau was rubbing his head, and Cooper was going into shock,” Becca said. “He wasn’t wanting to talk. In fact, he was getting mad at me for wanting him to talk. I was thinking, ‘Good, let him get mad as long as he is still awake.’”

Cooper Compton in the hospital after his accident (Photo courtesy of the Compton family)

It wasn’t until they got to the ambulance that Becca – who never left Cooper’s side – realized that her son’s toes were gone.

But, during these frantic moments on the boat, Becca remembers her son saying two main things:

“Mommy, don’t let me die.”

And …

“Mommy, am I still going to be able to play?”

We can now answer that second question in the affirmative.

Cooper tried a prosthetic foot but discarded it due to a lack of comfort. Instead, he just wears a smaller shoe on his right foot, and he is back on the field he loves so much.

“He can drive off his right foot,” Becca said. “He has balance and really good control as a pitcher. When the catcher spots up, Cooper hits the target.”

Cooper Compton back on the mound (Photo courtesy of the Compton family)

Cooper spent six weeks at Children’s Medical Center in Dallas, enduring eight surgeries.

The doctors there were not just skilled. They were also deeply caring about Cooper and his life going forward.

For example, they asked if Cooper played sports and what position. Once they learned he was a righthanded pitcher, they took skin from his left latissimus dorsi muscle, and they used that to give him a nub that is strong, tough and durable.

Doctors then performed two skin grafts, harvesting from his right thigh.

“That’s what they covered his nub with,” Becca said. “They did an incredible job. Cooper has full sensation in all of his right foot, which is amazing.”

PARKER’S STORY: THE COMEBACK

Byrd, of course, is the original “Mr. Amazing.”

In a previous report on Byrd here at D1Baseball, there was a common refrain that was repeated throughout:

“There’s no stopping Parker Byrd.”

That was as true then as it is now, and Feb. 16 is evidence.

That night, in the seventh inning of what became East Carolina’s 16-2 win over Rider, Pirates coach Cliff Godwin told Byrd to stay ready for a possible pinch-hitting appearance in the next frame.

“In the seventh inning, our fans had started chanting Parker’s name,” Godwin said. “But he had been on my mind the whole game.”

Byrd, excited to be summoned by Godwin, immediately made his way under the stands, where Pirates hitters practice their swings off a tee.

After a few rips, Byrd re-emerged in the dugout, where Godwin told him he would be the second hitter in the bottom of the eighth.

“My heart was racing,” Byrd said. “I thought about everybody who has helped me get back to playing. There was a lot of hard work and dedication along the way …

“The crowd (5,221) was the largest I’ve ever played in front of, and they were really loud. I just decided to have fun and live in the moment.”

Byrd had never tipped his cap to a crowd of fans before, but he did on this night. It was his way of acknowledging the fans who had risen from their seats as he made his way to the plate.

East Carolina’s Parker Byrd salutes the crowd before his first at-bat since his 2022 leg amputation (ECU Athletics)

“I’ve been waiting to hear my name called (over the loudspeaker) for almost two years,” Byrd said. “The atmosphere was electric. The ‘standing O’ was emotional.

“Typically, with the pitch clock, you have to dig in quickly. But the umpire had some feel, and he said: ‘Wait a minute.’”

Things quickly got real, however, as the pitcher, Jared Greenzang, spun a first-pitch curve for a strike.

But Byrd, hunting fastballs, got nothing else in the strike zone. He took the next four pitches for balls, making history with his walk.

Byrd, who hasn’t had a plate appearance since that Opening Night, has been working in practice at third base – just like Cooper.

“It’s the perfect spot for us — less movement, more reaction.

“I’m probably not game-ready at third base, but I’m improving. I’m taking my reps at third, feeling good. I’m working on my first step and my first 10 yards.”

Byrd figures his role for this season could be as a DH.

“I’ve been putting up competitive at-bats in practice,” Byrd said. “I’m getting my hits.”

Perhaps, however, his biggest job this season is as a role model to kids.

It’s not just Cooper. There are plenty of other young athletes — such as Hayes Brock Griffin and Logan Marmino — who look up to Byrd.

Due to a genetic disorder, Hayes — who turns 14 in March — had his left leg amputated below the knee in December of 2020.

Hayes, an aspiring basketball player who lives in Raleigh, N.C., has endured 12 surgeries. Yet, his attitude remains upbeat, and he recently had his photo taken with Byrd after a North Carolina-East Carolina game.

“Hayes is more of a kid now with an amputated leg than he was before,” said his stepmother, Jennifer Martin. “Now he just pops his leg on, runs outside and plays with the other kids in the neighborhood.”

Logan, a South Jersey kid who plays second base for the Jersey State Bombers travel team, was born without a left leg below the knee due to ABS (Amniotic Band Syndrome).

In June of 2023, Logan and Byrd met through CAF (Challenged Athletes Foundation). Both of them participated in a group interview on the set of MLB Network, located in Secaucus, New Jersey.

“Since Logan has been without his left leg his whole life, he was reassuring Parker that everything was going to be OK,” said Jennifer Marmoli, Logan’s mother. “It was funny because the 13-year-old was mentoring the 19-year-old about prosthetics. Logan told Parker, ‘You don’t have to give up your sport.’

“Of course, Logan learned a lot about baseball from Parker.”

Logan credits his parents for always telling him there are “no limits” to what he can accomplish.

So far, Logan has done quite a lot, including staying in Los Angeles for four months to act in an Apple TV show called “Best Foot Forward.”

In addition, Logan is preparing to testify in front of a Senate committee about the need for insurance companies in New Jersey to cover sports prosthetics.

Logan, a straight-A student with an outgoing personality, said he hit .343 last year in 12 games for Medford (N.J.) Memorial Middle School.

“Having one leg is all I’ve ever known – it’s definitely harder for someone like Parker to adapt,” Logan said. “I’m really happy I get to be a role model for other amputees.”

Byrd, unsolicited, mentioned Logan during his recent conversation with this reporter.

“I embrace my opportunity to inspire others,” Byrd said. “It’s pretty cool to see how I can pave the way for them. I take a lot of pride in that.

“There are kids like Logan – he was going to be special with or without me. He wanted to be the first amputee to play college baseball. I kind of took that from him, but I told him he could be the first player recruited as an amputee because my accident happened after I signed.”

THE FUTURE

Godwin, who called Byrd’s debut “an unbelievable moment,” believes there will be an encore in 2024.

“Parker has worked his tail off, and he has great hand-eye coordination,” Godwin said. “He has to re-learn how the lower half of his body works, but he hit a homer off a pitching machine last week.

 “I never put parameters on Parker Byrd. If it can get done, Parker will get it done.”

There’s no stopping Parker Byrd … or Cooper Compton … or Logan Marmino … or Hayes Brock Griffin.

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