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Former Little League pitcher opens season

April 03, 2010|By MARIE GILBERT
  • Broad Run's Trevor Knode, right, is at bat and Redman's Caden Keplinger is catcher for the opening day of Conocochegue Little League Saturday at Byron Memorial Park in Williamsport.
Colleen McGrath, Staff Photographer

WILLIAMSPORT -- Connor Renn was on familiar turf Saturday morning -- the pitcher's mound.

It's been his comfort zone since he was 5 years old and learning the basics of baseball.

But this time, there were no windups, no curveballs or smoking missiles snapping the catcher's mitt.

There was no team to beat. He already had beaten the odds.

On Feb. 12, Connor was diagnosed with ganglioglioma, a rare, benign tumor that was found on his spinal cord.

His doctors didn't expect the 13-year-old to be out of the hospital at this point. But there he was, walking with crutches onto the field at Conococheague Little League to thunderous applause from the hundreds of people gathered in the stands.

It was opening day for the Conococheague teams, and Connor was selected to kick off the 2010 season by throwing out the ceremonial first pitch.

Awaiting his throw was the catcher -- his 10-year-old sister, Madi.

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Connor has pitched and played third base for eight years and last year played for Wolfe's. In 2007, he played on the Conococheague championship team.

This year, he enters the PONY League level, and while he won't be able to pitch or swing a bat, Connor said he will be in uniform rooting from the dugout for his teammates.

Connor began having tremors in his left arm last August, said his parents, Mike Renn of Williamsport and Tricia Pickens-Renn of Hagerstown.

"Doctors aren't sure if the tumor was the cause of those tremors, but it certainly led to finding the tumor," Mike Renn said.

After numerous tests, doctors at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore found a mass on Connor's spinal cord.

Twelve days after that Feb. 12 diagnosis, and with a team of 15 specialists, Connor underwent six hours of surgery to remove the tumor, which had grown to more than 10 inches in length.

He then underwent therapy at the Kennedy Krieger Institute, from where he recently was discharged as an inpatient. He now is doing outpatient therapy.

The fact that Connor even was at the ball field Saturday morning was beyond doctor's expectations, his parents said.

"He really pushed himself," Mike Renn said. "He had to learn to walk all over again and he worked hard, approaching his recovery the same way he approaches baseball."

"He's two weeks ahead of schedule," Tricia Pickens-Renn said. "He's still supposed to be at rehab hospital. But instead, he's here throwing out the first pitch."

Tricia said the doctors, nurses and therapists nicknamed Connor "Superman" because of his remarkable progress.

"He's very modest," she said. "He doesn't want to take credit for his hard work. But he really did beat the odds."

Connor said he was a little nervous about throwing out the first pitch and practiced in the backyard with his sister, Madi, who plays for Osborne.

"It's going to be fun," Madi said. "I'm glad he'll be out there today. He taught me everything about baseball and worked with me on hitting and catching. He's really been an inspiration to me to play ball."

His mother said the last few months "have been an emotional roller coaster for the whole family."

And she was expecting Saturday to be emotional, too.

"I've got my tissues handy," she said.

Tricia said family and friends filled the bleachers Saturday to watch Connor walk out to the pitcher's mound.

"We've really had a lot of support," she said.

Connor said not many people knew about his tumor, except for a few of his best friends.

He is an eighth-grader at Springfield Middle School.

"I kept it secret," he said. "At school, most people saw me on crutches and just assumed I had broken a leg or ankle. This will be the first time everyone will hear the story."

As Connor walked out to the mound with his parents and youngest sister, Delaney, there were cheers, but also joyous tears.

"This is a special day," his mother said. "This is his day. We're all so proud of Connor."

The day included an introduction of all Conococheague Little League teams, plus official citations from the Maryland General Assembly presented by state Sen. Donald F. Munson and Del. Andrew A. Serafini, congratulating the 9- and 10-year-old and 11- and 12-year-old teams for being state champions last season.

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