One Little Leaguer who doesn't let anything stop him

March 30, 2005|by BOB MAGINNIS

Look at Evante Naylor, with his New York Yankees jersey, his close- cropped hair and winning smile, and it's easy to imagine that this is what Derek Jeter once looked like.

As it happens, Jeter is the boy's favorite player, but it's hard to believe that even the celebrated Yankee shortstop works harder than Evante does at the game.

"We're two minutes from the field, but a half an hour before we have to go, he wants to leave. He's the first one on the field and the last one off," said his mother, Heather Naylor.

"And he's in the back yard every night because of something his dad told him," she said.

"I take 50 or 100 swings every night because my dad said it would make my bat speed faster and make me stronger," Evante said.


Even though 9-year-old Evante has only played organized baseball for two years with a minor league team in the West End Little League, his hard work and dedication were rewarded last year when the league gave him its Founders Award.

Randy Carey, the league's president, said coaches nominate and vote for the player whose behavior exemplifies the Little League ideals of "character, courage and loyalty."

I'm sure that in every Little League program in Washington County, there is someone like Evante Naylor, who plays the game with a fervor that most youths never match.

But I'm also sure than most of those young players don't have to do it while dealing with the effects of cerebral palsy.

"He was born three months premature. Thankfully, it was just in his legs," his mother said.

Evante has had three surgeries so far and will continue to have them until he stops growing, he said.

As she explained it, the part of Evante's brain that controls the growth in his legs has been short-circuited somehow. As he grows, the muscles tighten up and doctors must go in and stretch them, she said.

"It's something that will never go away until he stops growing, but he may grow faster than his muscles grow and they'll have to go in and lengthen them," his mother said.

After surgery, he wears two full leg casts from the waist down for six weeks, his mother said.

Between surgeries, Evante wears leg braces while he sleeps and must also undergo physical therapy, she said.

Evante seems to take all of this in stride and has to be coaxed to talk about whether he'll continue to play baseball as he gets older.

"Yea, because it's like my favorite sport and I don't want to stop playing my favorite sport," he said.

Asked about his most memorable moment on the field, Evante holds up a game ball he was awarded. But as he starts to tell the story, he hesitates, so his father, Anthony Naylor, takes over.

"Actually, he was playing third base and there was this big kid at bat. He was really big. He might have been 10," he said.

"He hit a rocket and I mean a rocket and it almost knocked Evante down. It did knock him down and he didn't realize at first that the ball was in his glove," Naylor said.

"The kid on third base had already left for home, so now Evante's crawling to third base and tagged the bag and made a double play at third," he said.

"He doesn't let the fact that he had CP stop him. He'll dive, do anything to get to the ball," said Tina Williams, Evante's grandmother.

Williams called me after Evante wasn't picked up by a major league team after tryouts. It wasn't fair, she said.

I understand grandmas. My mother-in-law would have taken on a bull with a broomstick to defend our boys when they were small.

But Evante's mom and dad said no, there would be no sour-grapes story. Make the coaches who didn't pick you regret it by playing your best, they said.

"We were chatting and I told him that you're not the only child in this area with CP. If you do this story, it could motivate other kids to play," his mother said.

What parents! For not telling their child he is a victim, they ought to get the mom-and-dad MVP.

They promised to send me a schedule and I can't wait to watch Evante play. After hearing so much about his heart, I've just got to see him in action.

Bob Maginnis is Opinion page editor of The Herald-Mail.

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