Getting injured players back in lineup puts ‘pep in our step,’ Stricklin says after win over Tech
Georgia catcher Mason Meadows’ parents had a routine.
Drew and Nita Meadows would arrive to Foley Field 30 minutes before the pitch to get a good spot to watch their son play.
But on March 24, the husband and wife were running late to the UGA game vs. LSU. They taught Sunday school and had to stop for fuel six miles away.
As they filled up, Drew turned on the game on the WatchESPN app. And that’s when the text messages started coming.
“We’re praying. We’re praying.”
“Oh my gosh.”
Drew and Nita were puzzled. The stream they were watching, though, had a delay of up to 2 minutes. Mason was up to bat.
“We had to wait. It felt like hours,” Drew said. “I thought, What could possibly go wrong when he’s standing there batting?’”
And that’s when the nightmare began to unfold.
Meadows had two strikes against him when he swung on the third pitch from LSU’s Eric Walker. The foul tip ricocheted off his eye. Foley Field was hushed as Mason tumbled across the batter’s box in excruciating pain. He could only see darkness out of his right eye and his blood-covered hands from the left eye.
Two thoughts were going through the young star’s mind: “I’m going to be blind and never play again.”
But that’s not what happened. This story doesn’t end with Mason leaving baseball behind because he lost his sight playing the game he loves. This is a story about faith. It’s about a miraculous healing. It’s about finding the strength to put on a catcher’s mask again, helping your team in their 46-win effort toward an NCAA tournament.
Two days of darkness
Drew and Nita drove quickly down the well known speed trap that is the SR 10 loop. Shocked from what they had seen happen to their son through from a smartphone, the couple received a message from Georgia athletic trainer Sean Boland.
Boland said it appeared Mason had suffered an orbital blowout, an injury that occurs when small, thin bones around the eye are busted and shattered. The parents were told to meet Mason at Piedmont Athens Regional Hospital.
A CT scan and doctor’s diagnosis confirmed Boland’s theory. The Meadows family was together in the emergency room, and Mason’s right eye was swollen shut. There was an immediate concern of “the eye dropping down” due to fractures around it.
“He had never seen a CT scan that involved,” Drew said. “He told us to be prepared for surgery and plastic surgery. We knew his season was over. We were trying to save his sight.”
Four hours later, doctors pried Meadows’ eye open. Relief came as they were assured his eye would be OK, but the timetable grew extensive and a return to baseball remained an uncertainty.
The doctor said there would be a two-day process to wait for the swelling to diminish. Discharged from the hospital, Meadows sequestered himself inside the darkness of a local hotel room.
There were lots of questions asked, tears shed and pain shared over the next 48 hours.
“It was depressing,” Drew said. “We were struggling. We tried to nurse him back to health, but we never saw this coming.”
The Meadows’ family prayed and leaned on a Bible verse, Isaiah 55:8: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.”
Nita repeatedly kept cold cloth compressions on Mason’s eye to reduce the swelling. At the end of the two days, it was time to learn about what comes next with surgery.
A faith-shaped ‘miracle’
All of the headlines already wrote themselves. Georgia head coach Scott Stricklin informed reporters of Meadows’ need for surgery. The given prognosis was a four-week absence, but a reasonable expectation was about 10 weeks.
Surgery seemed inevitable when looking at Mason’s injury.
On March 27, Dr. Richard Manus, a maxillofacial surgeon in Athens, glanced at Meadows’ face in amazement. As he began to speak, references to Isaiah 55:8 reappeared in the family’s mind.
“The face I see in the CT scan is not the face I’m looking at now,” Drew said, recalling the doctor‘s words. “I am 75 percent sure you’re not going to have to have surgery. Your face is healing itself.”
Mason and his parents cried happy tears for the first time in three days.
They called their friends and family, those of Christian faith and non-followers, and each of them used the word “miracle” to describe the progression.
“People say, ‘God’s not doing miracles anymore,’ but that’s not our experience,” Drew said. “Not using the word ‘miracle’ would be a mistake. God is a healer. He’s got the intelligence and intellectual design for the body to heal itself. We give credit to God and how He used (a medical team) to perform a miracle.”
Mason was no longer doubtful about his recovery. He received an outpouring of support from players and others. They provided encouraging messages and food deliveries.
“God has a bigger plan than I do,” Meadows said. “He’s sitting on the throne and has the ultimate say. I trusted in him to ask for healing and patience.”
Returning to the diamond
After receiving medical clearance, Mason joined Stricklin and the rest of his team for batting practice.
Stricklin began practice with a joke and threw the ball behind Mason. He ducked out of the way and any hesitancy about returning to the batter’s box subsided.
A few days later, Stricklin wrote his lineup card and Meadows was the nine-place hitter for the annual contest with Georgia Tech at Foley Field.
After just two-and-a-half weeks of facial recovery, the rejuvenated sophomore pulled off the unthinkable. He was back on the filed after missing just nine games.
“He’s a tough dude,” departing second baseman LJ Talley said. “He’s one of our leaders, so we needed him to come back like that. It made us all more comfortable with him back.”
Georgia Tech tested his mentality early, too, as one pitch was thrown inside during his first at-bat.
“It gave me some flashbacks,” Mason said. “I’m trying to stay positive and keep my confidence. My teammates do a great job with that.”
Meadows made adjustments upon his return to ensure safety. He added an earplug to lessen episodes with vertigo. Georgia also purchased a spring-based catcher’s mask that’s based upon a design for Atlanta Braves catcher Tyler Flowers, for added protection.
At the season’s end, Meadows gradually saw his reward at the plate. He had a standout redshirt freshman season for Georgia, so a sub-.200 (.188) average puzzled those who knew Meadows’ potential. He hit his first-career triple against Alabama in the regular season finale and followed it up with a two-run homer vs. Ole Miss in the SEC Tournament.
But each time he steps into the batter’s box, Meadows and his family keep that unforgettable March afternoon in mind.
“I’m just really blessed,” Meadows said. “and thank the Lord for getting me back to a game I love.”