For Wendy Rogers, the simple joys of summertime seem sweeter this year.
That’s because last year at this time, her son Garrett “G-Money” Rogers was recovering at A.I du Pont Hospital for Children in Wilmington from the severe injuries he sustained in a car accident. Garrett was struck by a drunk driver last May when he ran to retrieve balls during a baseball practice in Millsboro. His injuries were serious, and his future outlook was very much in question in the beginning.
“That day, I was in the helicopter; I was in the ambulance to Beebe, and I did not come home ’til August,” Rogers said. Garrett was in a medically induced coma for several weeks, allowing his brain and body to recover slowly from the trauma of the accident.
By September, though, Garrett had recovered enough to throw out the first pitch at a Delmarva Shorebirds game in Salisbury, Md. Surrounded by friends, the then-10-year-old Little League pitcher took a victory lap around the bases.
This year, with a little help from his friend and physical therapist Josh Smith, Garret upped his game a bit. On Saturday, July 1, he threw out the first ball at a Baltimore Orioles game. Again, family and friends — “a lot more than I expected” — were in stands, cheering him on, Rogers said.
It wasn’t the first time the team had reached out to the young baseball player. Immediately after the accident, baseball teams from all over the country, from Little League to pro — including the Orioles — sent photos and get-well wishes to Garrett. The support went viral on social media, with athletes and non-athletes alike sporting Garrett’s 22 jersey number and the hashtags #22 and #gmoneystrong.
Rogers said Smith, who has been working with Garrett at Beebe Medical Center’s physical therapy office since last December, orchestrated Garrett’s debut on the Charm City mound. Smith, along with quite a few friends and family members, was on hand to watch Garrett’s pitch.
Also in the stadium was Delmarva television station WBOC, which interviewed Garrett during the game. “I think he was more nervous about that” than the actual pitch, Roger said.
In addition to throwing out the first pitch, Garrett was thrilled to be able to be on the field to see the Orioles’ pre-game batting practice, she said. And along with the game being Garrett’s first steps on a professional ballfield, “It was his first Major League game he’s ever been to,” Rogers said.
For Garrett and his family, including his mom, Wendy, and his younger sister, Aubrey, 8, the game was a way to kickstart their summer — a welcome do-over after last summer, much of which was spent in the hospital.
Roger said she gets frequent reminders — as if she needs them — of all that they went through, when she logs onto Facebook and its “Memories” feature pulls up photos of Garrett a year ago. The earliest photos show him lying in his hospital bed, barely conscious; later ones show a smiling but obviously struggling little boy as he learned to walk again.
“On the one hand, it’s so good, and on the other hand it’s so hard,” she said, “to see how far he’s come.”
Now a rising sixth-grader at Millsboro Middle School, Garrett has been discharged from physical therapy but will still receive services at school to continue his recovery. Right now, the family is waiting to find out if Garrett will be released to play sports in the fall.
“He still has some weakness on his right side,” Rogers said, adding that “he still has some things to work on.” But, she said, “I definitely think he’ll be back to sports.”
Garrett is not the only athlete in the family, Rogers noted. Aubrey “adores horseback riding” and will start cheerleading in the fall, according to her mom. For Aubrey, the past year has been challenging, Rogers said.
“She’s had her own journey. In some ways, this has been, psychologically, harder for her.”
Aubrey stayed with relatives near the hospital for the entire summer of 2016 and has struggled to process all that her brother’s injuries and recovery have entailed.
“It’s just a lot to explain,” Rogers said.
At the time of the accident, the family was already reeling from the death of Wendy’s husband and the children’s father, Kirk, of a heart ailment only six months earlier.
As for herself, Rogers said she is trying to find peace again. She spoke briefly of the driver who struck Garrett, who pleaded guilty in connection with the accident.
“I just hope he never drinks and drives again, and my hope is that he has some positive changes in her life.”
Rogers said she is still overwhelmed by the community support for her family since last spring and is determined to give back.
“I wonder a lot what did we do to be so deserving. A lot of people go through rough things,” she said. “I’m trying to get to a place where we can give some of that (support) back. I like to do small things,” she said. “I’m not comfortable in all that attention, in the spotlight.”
For now, Rogers said, she is enjoying the simplest of things.
“Just planting flowers and seeing them actually bloom” is a special joy, she said, after spending the previous summer in the sterile hospital environment with Garrett.
“He’s come a long way,” she said, as have she and Aubrey. “It’s a family journey, that’s for sure.”