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Standout baseball player‘s path from addiction to recovery

By HAYES GARDNER and The Courier Journal – Associated Press – Sunday, May 3, 2020

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) – didn’t have a place to stay. And worse – much, much worse – he didn’t have any money. Not for food, sure, but more pressingly, not for alcohol, marijuana or Adderall.

He trudged a snowy five miles through his hometown of Frankfort and arrived outside his grandparents’ house, drunk, cold and trying not to wake the neighbors as he pulled the handle of a locked back door. Then, he tried another door. Locked, too.

His last hope came on a side door, accessible from the deck. It was open.


had been to his grandparents’ house for holidays and such, but he didn’t know it well enough to immediately locate their valuables, so he rummaged through a number of rooms, locating gold in his grandmother’s jewelry box and collectible coins in his grandfather’s closet.

It was November 2012, and , who had graduated from Franklin County High that spring, had been banished from both Transylvania University and his parents’ home for poor academic performance, run-ins with the law, and most centrally, drug use.

“I needed everything in that moment,” said of the night he burglarized his grandparents’ home. “I didn’t have anything. I didn’t have any money. All of my money went to drugs first, and then would go to five dollars at McDonald’s or whatever.”

Somewhere in the back of his head, he had an idea that his actions were wrong. A vague recognition that it was illegal and immoral to steal, especially from grandparents who loved him.

“But at the time, my mind is only focused on one thing. I don’t care who I hurt, or what I do, the lengths I go are just absolutely unheard of,” said.

He’d been stealing a little bit, here and there, and he felt a sense of unaffected normalcy as he rifled through his grandparents’ belongings.

robbed his grandparents, vacationing in Florida at the time, of thousands of dollars worth of items. According to the Franklin County police report, he took a laptop, a golf cart, three gold necklaces, a gold charm bracelet, a gold chain and a gold and diamond pendant. The laptop and golf cart were eventually reclaimed, but the remaining items were pawned off for quick cash, a fraction of what they were worth.

A smooth criminal was not. He left an easily identifiable duffel bag of clothes, a sleeping bag and “numerous beer cans and other refuse items,” the report said.

Long before would become who he is today – a social work student, an accomplished shortstop and the conference’s player of the year for the baseball team – ’s family faced a harsh decision. On one hand, they didn’t want to levy a felony on their son and grandson, a felony that remains problematic today. On the other, they needed something to combat the severity of his addiction.

’s family issued a warrant for his arrest, and he spent 10 days in jail. It was far better than the alternative.

“He’s gonna die,” his mother thought at the time.

It’s an 11-hour drive from Frankfort to Gainesville, Florida, and didn’t say much more than a word to his parents, and Brad, during the entire trip. Instead, he stewed and steamed about the arrest and the unfamiliar and unfair reality, in his eyes, that awaited him at the University of Florida Health Florida Recovery Center.

He was livid with his parents for calling for his arrest and letting him sit in jail so long before bailing him out. He had no interest in becoming sober at a rehab facility far from home.

“I was totally against it,” said of trekking to Florida at the age of 19. “I thought I was not the one who had the problem. I thought I was just having a little fun, being a normal kid, smoking a little weed and doing a little stuff on the side.”

At the inpatient drug rehab facility where his parents dropped him off, lived on campus and attended classes, group therapy and process groups for eight hours a day as part of the intensive curriculum.

It was relatively easy to fake it. was involuntarily stuck at a program he had no interest in, and so he went through the motions, attending classes high or hungover. Sometimes he got away with it, sometimes not.

Relapse is common for recovering drug addicts – as many as 85% relapse within one year of treatment. began to clean up for the sake of appearances but relapsed within three months of beginning the program. He remained in the program and went 15 months sober, but even that was partially feigned.

“I hadn’t really changed the person I was,” he said. “I did not want to be sober for the rest of my life. I knew that in the back of my head.”

After those 15 months, he turned 21 and started drinking again. That rolled into smoking weed, which snowballed into a five-day bender and an arrest on possession of Adderall, cocaine and Vyvanse.

When received the news at 5:30 a.m., she collapsed in her bedroom in Kentucky and wept.

“I just felt, the most hopeless – when you feel like you’ve done everything you can,” she said.

and Brad made that familiar drive to Florida, the same one they’d made two years prior, to pick up their son from jail. When was released, he fell into his mother’s arms and sobbed.

Two days after got out, he shared his experiences during a meeting with peers at the drug program in Florida. His voice wavered; tears replaced words. He knew he’d lost his way, his worth.

“I was so broken,” he said, letting the word hang in the air. “I still remember that moment to this day of trying to talk and just getting choked up. I talked about how I’ve tried to cut corners in that thing the entire time, and it never worked. It kind of shook the room of how much despair and powerlessness was in those words.”

He returned to his recovery more vigorously, taking seriously the 12-step guidelines for addiction recovery. He shed much of who he was in an effort to embrace who he knew he needed to become: totally sober since the first time he began experimenting with drugs at 15.

“I was scared because it makes you look at yourself in the mirror and be honest about everything. When I did that, that’s when the personality changed and this psychic-change took place, and I became, essentially a different person,” he said. “It’s crazy to think about, but that’s the only way I can describe it, man.”

He’s been sober since.

The first thing those close to mention about him is his appearance. The wacky clothing – teammate Zane Baker remembers distinctly the Pikachu cutoff was wearing when they met – the “Tarzan-looking” overgrown hair he sometimes sports, the earring, the tattoos, the tight, bright workout clothes. recently shaved his eyebrows off without much of a reason.

“I was telling my family about him,” Baker, his roommate, said, “and the only way I could describe him was: ‘He’s like no one else I have ever met. He doesn’t compare to anybody.‘”

Once completed a drug court program in Florida, he returned to Kentucky and enrolled at as a 23-year-old freshman in January 2017, eager to join the school’s Division III baseball team. had been set to play at Transylvania a lifetime earlier, before addiction interfered.

head coach Matt Downs heard about the guy who had been out of baseball and in a rehab facility for four years and wanted little to do with him. made several efforts to join the team, but Downs would meekly explain over the phone that they didn’t have room for him on the roster. The 27-year old Downs didn’t want any risks with his new team.

Then, tracked him down in his office and shared his story.

“I remember, he was wearing a white performance long sleeve, real tight, no shirt on over it,” Downs said. “It’s stuff you’d normally wear under things. His hair’s down, he’s in shorts.”

’s size – 6-foot-3, 210-pounds – and thunderous personality won Downs over, and he let the new guy try out. The young coach was immediately struck by the old freshman’s effortless, smooth play.

“He had this huge energy,” Downs said. “He won people over so quick, and he won people over more quickly than I would’ve ever saw coming.”

He quickly became a worthy addition. He earned the coveted starting shortstop job as a sophomore, and as a junior in 2019, he hit .384 with 10 home runs on his way to being named conference player of the year and an all-region selection.

He was off to a strong senior campaign, too, before the coronavirus shortened it last month. The NCAA granted spring athlete seniors’ an extra year of eligibility, and may play for again next season, only as a Master’s student, not an undergrad.

will try independent professional baseball after college, but he knows his long-term career lies in social work. He was drawn to the field a couple of years ago and has latched onto the idea of helping those recovering from addiction.

He stands out in the female-dominated field of social work, and professor Leslie Cairo softly smiles when describing .

“Unique,” he says. “He is not a cliché.”

’s open about his past, and he surprises people with honesty. Cairo asks to share his story with other social work classes, and he believes will be a worthwhile addition to the field, in part because of his personal experience; administered drug tests as part of an internship this year, and he did so with a keen sense of how it feels to be on the other side.

When the charismatic shortstop celebrates five years of sobriety in November, he’ll do so as a graduate student – either at or the University of Louisville – pursuing a career as a social worker.

“That’s where I’m meant to be. I believe that,” said.

’s athletic and academic successes are accomplishments that seemed far from possible when his parents, out of options, kicked him out of the house. “It was 32 degrees on Nov. 19, 2012, and I can remember it,” said.

When broke into his grandparent’s home that night, he was desperate. When he spent 10 days in jail, he was livid towards his parents and “entitled,” in his words. When he was driven to Florida, he was silent and scornful.

But that’s not who is.

“He’s outrageous,” said with a smile in her voice. “He’s silly, he’s fun.”

By the time ’s family checked with the pawn shop where he had traded the precious heirlooms for cash back in 2012, the jewelry, which was valued at more than $8,000, was gone. There was no trace of the charm bracelet or the gold necklaces. Not the pendant or the collectible coins, either.

They couldn’t get them back.

Instead, after years of struggle, of relapse, of challenge, they got something else worth much, much more: a shortstop, a social worker, a son.

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