Dean Sasser looks up to Heritage catcher, Dylan Barker, while his mom, Melanie, looks on Tuesday at the Heritage Academy baseball field during pre-game ceremonies before the Patriots’ game against Washington School of Greenville. Photo by: Luisa Porter/Dispatch Staff
April 23, 2014 10:12:50 AM
Dean Sasser, an 8-year-old who suffered severe head trauma in a February car accident, threw out the ceremonial first pitch before Heritage Academy's baseball game Tuesday evening.
The team gave him a red Patriots uniform that fit well for the occasion. Before he walked out to the mound, Dean took some pictures with Heritage Academy players along the third-base line.
"You ready for this Dean?" one player said.
"Let's go Dean!" said another.
"Sasser strong!" said another.
Dean, a second-grader at the Columbus private school, was all smiles beneath his cap. He gripped a baseball in his right hand and had a small glove on his left.
Matt Sasser, his 35-year-old father, asked him if he wanted to warm up his arm. He did, and father and son stood there tossing a baseball back and forth with matching smiles.
Dean has come a long way.
The accident happened Feb. 21 about 5 p.m. on Hwy. 45 South. Dean and his little brother, Jake, were on the way to a birthday party with their mother, Melanie, when they stopped on the side of the road and were rear-ended.
Dean was airlifted to Children's Hospital in Birmingham, Ala. He spent some time in the intensive care unit with a brain bleed. His family had initially asked, "When can we go home?" Things did not look good, though, and the question became, "What kind of kid is he going to be?" Doctors said with brain injuries only time can tell.
Then in early March, while still in the hospital, Dean reached for a baseball. He has always been a fan of the game. It was the first sign that he was coming out of the trauma. That's when his family felt like "something miraculous was happening," Matt Sasser said.
Rehabilitation went better and better. Some kids in Dean's situation favor having toy cars or Legos around. Dean wanted a baseball, though, so during his rehab a baseball was often incorporated.
On March 21 -- one month to the day since the accident -- Dean came home to Columbus. He and his family still go to the Birmingham hospital for outpatient rehab and he hasn't yet returned to school at Heritage Academy. But neurologists say Dean could become a poster child for how well recovery from a brain injury can go, his father said.
Two weeks ago, Heritage Academy asked the Sasser family if Dean could throw out the first pitch Tuesday night before the Patriots' game versus Washington School, a Greenville private school. At first they weren't sure. Matt and Melanie Sasser -- he is a CPA, she works at Cadence Bank -- want to shield their son from too much attention during his recovery.
Matt Sasser said they ultimately decided to go for it. To get ready, he took Dean out into their yard a few times to toss a baseball.
"His fourth or fifth throw is usually his best," Matt Sasser said Tuesday. "I told him that tonight on the mound, his first would have to be his best."
After the teams were introduced Tuesday evening, Dean and his parents and two siblings walked out to the mound. Dean's second-grade class met him there.
Patriots catcher Dylan Barker squatted down in the infield and put up his glove. With a couple of hundred fans cheering him on, Dean gripped the ball, reared back and tossed it in.
As he walked off the field, people yelled, "Great job, Dean!"
Dean just smiled.
"He makes progress every day," Matt Sasser said. "That's all you can ask for."
William Browning was managing editor for The Dispatch until June 2016.
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