On Jan. 24, 2018, Blue Springs High School graduate Hayden Ludwig walked out of the doors and into the lobby at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. He received some cheers and claps from family members and workers at the clinic.
He then walked over to a bell and pulled the string to ring it. Finally, he was cancer free.
“That was the day I received my last treatment,” Ludwig said. “Luckily my mom was with me. It gives me a lot of happiness to watch that video of me walking out of those doors and everyone clapping. It was a testament of how phenomenal the Mayo Clinic is.
“I couldn’t believe all those people were clapping for me. It was very emotional.”
Ludwig was in a battle with a rare type of cancer called myoepithelioma, which is normally a benign tumor of the head and neck. His, however, was cancerous.
He went through surgery and had the tumor and the surrounding tissue removed in his skull. He was hospitalized for three days and didn’t walk for a week. In December, he received radiation treatment.
Through it all, he still maintained a positive attitude. He won an eight-month-long battle with cancer and returned to Columbia, Mo., where he was going to college and eventually began playing the sport he loves – baseball.
But before that, he told his girlfriend Lucy Kingsley that he was going to see her the weekend after he received his final treatment. He met with his roomates the same day he was released from the Mayo Clinic and they had Post-It notes put up, each with individual letters on them. They read, “Welcome back.”
“That was an awesome feeling; I hadn’t seen them in forever,” Ludwig said.
He ended up surprising his girlfriend and visiting her that day.
“I showed up at 9 p.m. that night,” Ludwig said. “I wanted to surprise her. It was a really emotional moment.”
He later returned to play for the Columbia College baseball team in the spring of 2018 for his sophomore season. However, he aggravated a back injury that he had when he was a junior at Blue Springs High School and later had hamstring issues, so he applied for a medical redshirt.
In the fall of 2018, he eased back into playing baseball. He still played every day and practiced with a few restrictions.
“I wasn’t physically where I was,” Ludwig said. “I lost close to 30 pounds. I wasn’t as strong or fast and couldn’t throw the ball as hard. It was hard to make a comeback.”
He wasn’t fully healthy until the 2019 season. He served as a utility player off the bench and played in 26 games.
He had a .400 batting average in 15 at-bats and added one home run and eight RBIs. His team ended up making the NAIA Baseball National Championship tournament.
“I didn’t play as much as I had hoped, but I felt good,” Ludwig said. “I still had a good season and was injury free. That’s all I cared about. I appreciate the opportunity and it was a ton of fun really. I played pretty much everywhere but catcher.
“If I can serve my team in several different ways, I am happy to do it.”
He’s playing this summer with the Ban Johnson League team called Seaboard, and he’s playing every day at shortstop. He is relishing every day that he’s on the diamond because it wasn’t too long ago when his baseball career was shrouded in uncertainty.
“Everything really came together this spring,” Ludwig said. “I remember I saw a play that (Atlanta Braves third baseman) Josh Donaldson made. He made an amazing backhand stop and threw it to first. And I thought, ‘How did he not hurt his back?’
“But then I made a similar play in practice at Columbia College. That’s when I finally felt like I was back at full strength. I remember thinking, ‘All right, this is what I’ve been working for. Everything is up to me now. Now it’s time to put in the work to make what I want to happen, happen.’”
And that goal is to be an everyday infielder for Columbia College for his redshirt junior season in 2020.
“I don’t want to look back at anything and wish I had done something different,” Ludwig said. “I want to give it my absolute all and focus on every pitch.”