For as long as he can remember, Blue Springs South High School senior Levi Legate dreamed of playing outfield for the Jaguars.
He grew up a South baseball fan and that dream became a reality on opening day this season, when the Jaguars traveled to Legacy Park to take on the Lee’s Summit Tigers.
But with one swing of the bat, a young man’s dream turned into a nightmare.
“The game wasn’t five minutes old when Levi went up to bat and fouled his first swing of the season off his eye,” South coach Ben Baier said, softly, recoiling at what was about to unfold on the playing field. “At first, I thought it went off his nose – there was a lot of blood – and Levi came running over to me and I knew it was a lot worse.”
Although he was wearing a protective C flap, the ball struck Legate directly in his right eye, shattering his orbital socket and creating a long break along his jaw.
“I knew it was bad, real bad,” said Legate, who underwent three hours of surgery after the accident in an unsuccessful attempt to save his eye. “I ran over to Coach and I was pretty much in shock.
“I remember a police officer who was there and he got me and my mom into his car and took me to a hospital in Lee’s Summit.”
Legate, who earned a starting spot on varsity after serving as a reserve last year, was taken to Lee’s Summit Medical Center on U.S. 50, and from there to Research Hospital in downtown Kansas City, where two eye specialists and a plastic surgeon worked on his eye for more than three hours.
“It was all so scary, because it’s your son and you have no idea how badly he’s been injured,” said his mother Barb, a counselor at Blue Springs South who made the trip with Levi to the two area hospitals. “He tried to protect me from what really happened and all the way to the hospital downtown I was worried about possible brain injury and how badly his eye had been damaged.
“I remember when he got hit, he ran over to Ben and said, ‘Don’t let my mom see me.’ Even though he was hurt, he was thinking of me and now wanting me to worry. His attitude that day, and throughout the entire ordeal has made it easier on our family.
“He’s going to make the most of this, I know he is. And we can’t thank Coach Baier enough for all he did that day, being the calm in the storm. We were all so scared.”
Baier nods in agreement, adding, “I was scared to death.”
Baier and many of Legate’s teammates went to the hospital to hopefully see their injured friend before he went into surgery, but they arrived a few minutes late.
“We just wanted him to know we were there for him,” Baier said. “And we’ve been there for him every day since the accident.”
Following the surgery, Legate and his mother were in his hospital room when he awoke from the anesthesia.
“I’ll never forget what he said to me,” Barb said, “he looked at me and said, ‘I’m lucky – I’m lucky. That’s Levi. He is always going to find a way to make something positive, even something like this.”
Legate returned to school a few days after the surgery, wearing a patch on his eye, to protect the countless number of stitches used both on, and around, his eyeball.
“I knew I couldn’t play baseball – the doctors told me I couldn’t do anything and risk any type of eye injury after losing the sight in my left eye,” Legate said, “so I talked to our track coach (Adam Courter) and asked him about running track. And I’ve been working with the sprint guys and it’s been pretty cool.”
Legate had earned a baseball scholarship to Northwest Missouri State University, and the Bearcats are honoring that commitment, even though he will not be able to play baseball for the university.
“When I went and talked to Northwest, the baseball coach got me in touch with the track coach, and even though I’ve never ran track, I’ve been working at it and I might be able to get some kind of track scholarship after my freshman year,” Legate said. “That was so amazing. I have never lost my faith through any of this, and I am going to make this something positive. And promise you I am.”
Baier nodded in agreement.
“That’s Levi – one of the most positive kids I have ever been around,” the coach said. “One door closed and he’d going to open another one and make the most of this situation. I was so thrilled he told me he wanted to run track.
“And I know he’s going to use his injury as a way to help others who are going through bad times. He is going to turn this into something positive – for himself and everyone he comes in contact with.”
Baier wanted to honor Legate, and found a special way to celebrate the young man who had inspired so many people at South – one last at bat.
“I talked to Levi, because I wanted his approval on this,” an emotional Baier said, “but I wanted him to leadoff our Senior Day Game against Liberty High School. Levi liked the idea, so I called Kirk Bragg – a great guy who coaches up there – and told him what I wanted to do, and he loved the idea.
“I asked if he would walk Levi to leadoff the game, and then I would have our pinch runner get picked off. And he wouldn’t have that – talk about class. So, that day, I didn’t post our lineup until right before the game.
“Levi was there in full uniform, cleats, wearing the list of plays we use on his wrist – the works – and when the guys saw the lineup they went crazy.”
Legate was issued an intentional walk, sprinted to first base and was then greeted by Cale Sackewitz, one of his best friends on the team, and the rest of his Jaguar teammates.
“That was so cool, a moment I will never forget,” Legate said. “I can’t thank Coach enough for coming up with that idea. One last at-bat – so cool.”
Sackewitz tears up at the thought of that special plate appearance.
“We were all crying, I’m crying now,” Sackewitz said. “When we saw Levi was leading off, we went crazy, there was so much energy in our dugout it was unbelievable. When I ran out to hug him after the walk, I was in total tears. That’s a moment I will remember for the rest of my life.”
While Legate has maintained a positive approach throughout this ordeal, he admits he experienced more than a few “Why me?” moments.
“Of course I did,” Legate said. “But I have so much faith and that helped me get through this. I have a great family and the support of Coach Baier and all the guys on the team and everyone at our school.
“I could not have gotten through this by myself, and I want to thank everyone who has been there for me. Like Coach said, when one door closes, another one opens, and I can’t wait to go through that open door and see what’s out there waiting for me.”