NEW YORK (PIX11) -- “You spend a good piece of your life gripping a baseball and in the end it turns out that it was the other way around all the time." -Jim Bouton
It doesn't take long to realize that baseball has a tight grip on Will Gerhard. The 21-year-old has an impressive collection of memorabilia and cards. "Over 20,000 I'd say,” according to Gerhard.
I first met Gerhard far away from his high school field Watchung, New Jersey. In fact it was at the News Building on 42nd Street, the home base of PIX 11 News.
The Syracuse broadcast major reached out in an email saying that he wanted to shadow me and learn about the industry. It turns out, I learned much more by listening to him, because the fact of the matter is that Will Gerhard's love for baseball should have ended 5 years ago, “When I was 16-years-old I had sudden cardiac arrest."
In fact, he had no pulse, he was gone, "I had no heart rate for a couple of minutes", said Gerhard. "My pulse was dead for about 2 to 3 minutes.”
Miraculously EMTs shocked him back to life, but it took a relentless effort, "7 times with a defibrillator."
The sudden cardiac arrest wasn’t due to being out of shape. Instead, his heart was inflamed, paralyzed by myocarditis.
Additionally, the lack of blood flow and oxygen to the brain produced temporary damage, "for a number of months I had to go to brain therapy to kind of get my brain working again."
While Gerhard worked to get back, he was kept in the dark about a demoralizing reality, "To be completely honest, the doctors told my parents originally that there was no chance that I would ever play a sport again, but they didn't tell me that because they didn't want to crush me mentally as I was going through all this rehab."
As the old saying goes, where there is a will -- well let's just say this Will found his way.
Months later he triumphantly returned to pitch his last two years of high school ball before moving on to Syracuse. Weeks after arriving on campus he tried out for the squad where, "I got cut."
Then two months before tryouts his sophomore year, "I fell backwards and fractured my skull and that was another two weeks in the hospital."
"It ain't over 'til it's over." -Yogi Berra
While Yogi Berra's message was simple. Gerhard's drive is inspirational, "I'm going to play baseball until someone tells me I'm not good enough."
That has been his mantra since his near death experience. Finally, last fall, no one told him he wasn't good enough, "After trying out twice for the team and getting cut both times. I finally made it."
However, there was a catch. He couldn’t bat. The reason? Not because he was a pitcher, but because of the lifesaver implanted in his chest an internal cardiac defibrillator.
"It basically monitors my hear rate, makes sure things are good and if I were to ever need an extra boost or an extra shock or something it would give it to me."
That's right this 6-foot-6 righty with a fastball in the high 80s pitches with a defibrillator.
While an 87 MPH fastball and a defibrillator might be a very good day for Gerhard, a great day would be pitching on a patch of grass in Queens.
This said, hours before a recent Mets-Cubs game on PIX11, Gerhard decided to shadow me to Citi Field for what he thought was an investigative report on shady middlemen in baseball.
Mets pitching coach Dan Warthen played his part well.
That is until, the Mets and I threw Gerhard the biggest curve ball of his life.
You see the kid with an 87 MPH fastball and defibrillator was actually there, because he was going to pitch at Citi Field.
His family was in on it and surprised him and brought his favorite glove and gear from home. After a quick introduction to Victor Black, Will was off with the reliever. He met a few Mets along the way, dressed in the clubhouse, took to the field the same way the players do, loosened under the scoreboard in right field and even received advice from skipper Terry Collins, “Don’t get hurt today.”
Then after some tutelage from Warthen, Gerhard fired away. It was evident that with pitch, after pitch, after pitch, the kid was living out his dream.
For more than 30 minutes Gerhard threw in the Mets bullpen. It was a time like no other in his life, “I couldn't even put a word to it, to describe how amazing this whole experience is. I'm sitting in the Mets dugout, man, I never thought this would happen.”
As Gerhard walked away from the day, it should be noted that Major League Baseball has never had a player with a defibrillator.
However, as evident this pitcher's heart is too big. And frankly, Will's will too strong for him not too march into the history books,
“I’m going to play baseball until someone tells me I’m not good enough.”