Nike built a whole campaign around the saying “chicks dig the longball,” and fathers have helped their sons overcome minor injuries with their own saying, “chicks dig scars” for generations.
Byron Johnson may be too young to be interested in the attentions of the fairer sex, but if he were just 10 years or so older, both those slogans would prove fitting for the 6-year old Newton County Recreation power hitter.
After leading his age group in home runs during the regular season, the Heard-Mixon Elementary student broke his left thumb and continued to play, and excel with just one hand.
“He ended up hitting four home runs with one arm,” Byron’s coach Kyle Ellis said. “That’s how good he is.”
Johnson, who will turn 7 in September, hit 14 home runs during the 15 games of the 6-and-under baseball season with the Cubs, earning a selection to the grey all-star team, which participated in a post-season tournament Wednesday through Friday.
Before the all-star tournament began, Johnson was riding on the back of a 4-wheeler with a friend, who threw it into reverse, resulting in Johnson flipping off the back and breaking his left thumb. After the accident Byron had all-star practice, and participated with what he and his parents thought was just a hurt hand.
“Every time he caught a ball he would almost cry, but he kept wanting to practice,” said Ellis, Johnson’s regular season and all-star team coach. “Then his parents said they have to take him to the doctor because he never complains of pain. That night they said it was broken.”
Originally, the doctor didn’t think Johnson could play baseball until his thumb was properly healed.
However, Byron then had a chat with him, expressing to his doctor his love of baseball. He has been playing for years now, not only during games, but goes out to a field with his father, Ellis and Ellis’ son almost every day to hit, field, throw and catch.
When he’s not playing, Byron is still watching and admiring his favorite game, even getting to see his favorite player, Chipper Jones, last year before the switch-hitting legend retired.
Whether it’s watching baseball, practicing or playing in a game, Byron said his favorite thing to do is hit home runs. That’s fortunate for his teammates, because in his very short baseball career home-run hitting has become his specialty. His home run power didn’t dwindle any with the broken thumb.
The doctor placed Johnson under strict orders to not get any water or dirt inside the cast, and Ellis, Johnson’s father RJ and Byron decided to play the game strictly using his right hand.
That meant he would have to swing the bat with just his right hand as his left hand stood by his side. Byron also had to catch the ball with his unfamiliar right hand, switch the glove under his left shoulder and pull the ball out of the glove tucked under his left arm with his right hand in order to throw the ball back to the infield.
Byron began practicing the new techniques a week before the all-star games started, getting to the point where Ellis and the grey team’s assistant coach and Byron's father, RJ Johnson, were confident in his play despite the one-arm restriction.
“I was looking for another player, but he said he wanted to play,” RJ Johnson said.
Byron proceeded to play with his all-star team, hitting home runs in all but one of the games, going yard four times.
“I kept telling people, ‘I think he’s going to hit a home run with one arm,’” Ellis said. “I had several people say there’s no way he’s going to do that,’ and I said, ‘Well, I think he is.’
“We were hoping for one and he got four, so it wasn’t a fluke, like he got lucky and hit one home run, it was several.”
Byron was able to club the home runs just on the power of his right hand while his left sat dormant by his side, using the power of his strong-for-a-10-year-old 6-year-old body. There were doubts however, as opposing players’ parents questioned why the wounded player would be allowed to participate. But, after seeing Byron deliver another ball over the fence, the doubt disappeared.
“A lot of parents came up to me and said, ‘That was awesome. We’re glad we got to see that; glad he got to play.’” Ellis said. “It wouldn’t have been right for him not to play after he did so well during the season.”
Byron will continue to play as he moves up from training league to pee wee league in NCRC baseball, but will do so with two good hands.