All teams and players of any sport pride themselves on persevering through adversity. It’s become almost cliché in how often adversity is used by coaches and players to describe even the littlest of bumps in the road.
But sometimes adversity falls miles short of what teams and players have to overcome. That’s certainly the case for the 2014 Garden City Community College baseball team, which was beset by tragedy not once, but twice on each end of this season, making it the No. 7 Telegram sports story of the year.
Just a month before the regular season was scheduled to begin, star pitcher Garrett Bryant suffered a traumatic brain injury (TBI) in a fall down a staircase in Garden City. His life was threatened, and his once promising baseball career — which included a signed letter-of-intent to Division I Louisiana Tech — seemed to be undoubtedly over.
The Busters moved on as a team, with Bryant cheering from his hospital bed first, and then from the dugout later in the season as he progressed. But tragedy struck again.
In May, just days after a successful season ended in the Region VI semifinals, shortstop Tyler Alitz, 20, one of the main reasons the Busters won 38 games in 2014, died in a car accident, leaving one grieving family in Omaha, Neb., and another family, the Broncbusters, grieving in Garden City.
Wrists taped, marked with “T.A. #3,” Tommy Alitz strolled to the plate during the USSSA Nebraska state championship tournament in July. The 14-year-old brother of Tyler went 11 for 12, emulating Tyler’s explosive swing and enthusiasm for the game all at once.
“It really showed me that (Tyler’s) leadership, and his ability to play some ball, has come to me,” Tommy said. “And that he was on the field with me.”
Tommy and Tyler have become more and more alike on the baseball diamond in the months after Tyler’s death.
“We just have the same mindset at the game,” Tommy said about how he is similar with his brother. “He taught me more about the game than anyone else. He taught me to love the game and how to play. He showed me how to see the game.”
Now, Tommy has done some learning from other Busters, as they reached out to him after Tyler’s death, bringing him into the baseball family.
“They’ve all done things for me,” Tommy said. “People that I’ve never heard of before. I watched them play, and it means a lot that they reached out to me, because that’s my dream to play college baseball.”
Not too long before Tommy was rapping out 11 for 12 on a baseball field in Nebraska, Bryant was making his own personal breakthrough at Williams Field in Garden City. The sophomore threw out a ceremonial first pitch before a Broncbusters’ game in April, and it looked as though the lanky righty hadn’t lost even an inch of velocity.
Even after a months long rehab process, which included regaining memory and balance, losing 40 pounds and having to miss an entire season with his beloved teammates, Bryant was back to the outgoing, gregarious person and pitcher his friends and family described in the weeks and months after the accident.
At the time, Bryant was still planning to head to Louisiana Tech for the 2015 season, but now Bryant is still part of the Busters, and will be in 2015. He is still regaining some of his once dominant form, pitching sparingly in Fall league games for GCCC, but he’s on track to become his former self by this spring, when the Busters will take to the field once again.