Comeback kid: Garrett Rogers is back on the field three years after being hit by a drunken driver

Garrett Rogers stands ready in the batter’s box, awaiting a pitch during a Henlopen Wave travel ball practice session in Lewes. (Delaware State News/Ben Heck)

MILLSBORO — In the wide world of sports, it was a home run.

In the game of life, it was heart-warming if not miraculously monumental.

Garrett Rogers’ comeback from a brush with death nearly three years ago and after several years of rehabilitation “went yard” earlier this month.

An opposite-field home run in a travel ball baseball game at Sports at the Beach in Georgetown on Saturday, April 6 made the miracle comeback complete.

“It was just a happy moment that he could be there, period,” said Garrett’s mom, Wendy Rogers Palermo. “That was the full-circle moment, to have him there in the dugout.”

The 12-year-old Millsboro boy circled the bases in a home run trot and was mobbed by his Henlopen Wave teammates as he crossed home plate.

Unable to hide his grin, Garrett high-fived his stepdad, Jim Palermo (the cameraman who captured the feat on video) and embraced his mom in a huge bearhug in the shadow of the dugout.

Not too shabby for a young man who on May 14, 2016, suffered multiple broken bones, critical injuries head-to-toe and brain trauma when he was struck by a drunk driver while darting across Iron Branch Road to fetch some foul balls.

Initial medical prognosis was not promising. Odds were that Garrett’s sports-playing days were over.

Now, the comeback kid’s comeback is being hailed as nothing short of a miracle.

“What a miracle of a day it was,” said Garrett’s mom.

A split doubleheader at Sports at the Beach marked Garrett’s first time playing the game of baseball since that life-changing day nearly three years ago.

Under supervision from his stepfather, Jim Palermo, Garrett Rogers works out at World Gym in Millsboro. (Submitted photo)

Hitless in five previous at-bats —all via strikeout — he settled into the batter’s box. With a smooth swing, the left-hander whacked a 1-2 pitch that cleared the fence in left-center field.

“I swung and missed for a strike and I fouled one off. I was like, ‘I’ve got to hit this one.’ All I wanted to do was make contact, solid contact. I made contact,” said Garrett. “I was stunned for a moment; I do remember seeing the ball come off the bat but then just turning my head and running towards first. Then, my first base coach was like, ‘Slow down … home run!”

“I wouldn’t think I’d hit a home run, my second game back,” said Garrett, who initially spent more than three months as an inpatient at Nemours/Alfred I. du Pont Hospital for Children. “At A.I. du Pont, I remember hitting the ball off the tee in rehab. But I wouldn’t think I’d see myself hitting a home run off a live pitcher.”

His home run feat, captured on video from several angles, spread like wildlife on You Tube and social media.

Facebook erupted like Mount St. Helen’s. Tears of joy flowed like water cascading over Niagara Falls.

From left, Jim Palermo, Garrett Rogers and Wendy Rogers Palermo stand in front of the gmoneystrong 22 door wreath at their home near Millsboro. (Delaware State News/Glenn Rolfe)

“I keep watching the video in disbelief that it actually happened,” said Mrs. Rogers Palermo. “I never doubted his skill. It is different to be out of something for so long and make it happen. I screamed initially. I cringe a little more every time I watch it. It was a scream, like from a place that you can’t really help. It was just a happy-for-him moment. That’s what it was.”

To play … or not to play?

While Garrett is back on the diamond, there won’t be competitive football or wrestling, contact sports that run a much higher risk of head injury.

“I told him he is never going to be a football player,” said Mrs. Rogers Palermo.

The decision to play baseball, she said, was made after weighing pros and cons to allow her son to do something he truly loves.

“I think it was still even in question, like now. Garrett still goes up for check-ups to A.I. (hospital). Brain injuries are forever. There are always going to be concerns,” Mrs. Rogers Palermo said. “I think I was hoping for the ‘definitely no risk, all clear’ and that is something I don’t think we are ever going to get. Brain injuries are something that can’t be erased or healed like a broken bone can.

“I think the worry is always there. But at this point it is kind of up to us to make the choice. They (doctors) said, ‘We can’t tell you what to do. We can tell you we have concerns.’

“I truly believe he is ready and we’re going to keep him as safe as we can, but we want him to live his life and fulfill his dreams, too.”

Present and future

So, Garrett, a seventh grader at Millsboro Middle School who turns 13 in May, this year plans to play Little League Junior/Senior Baseball and travel ball with the Wave.

He’ll also be hunting and bass fishing. He bagged a huge 8-point buck during muzzleloader season. It’s mounted on his bedroom wall.

And, he’ll be working out in the gym with his stepdad, whom Garrett credits for his strength and home-run power.

“I think the reason I hit my home run is … this dude right there started to bring me to the gym,” said Garrett. “When he and mom just started dating, he asked mom, ‘Hey, can Garrett work out with me?’

“We started working out at home. I’d do 50 pushups, 80 sit-ups and a bunch of pull-ups and chin-ups.,” Garrett said. “I finally got cleared to work out at the World Gym in Millsboro. World Gym has way more stuff!”

Garrett can dead-lift 165 pounds and bench 105.

“He is there doing a whole powerlifting routine. He is in there three or four days a week,” said Mr. Palermo, noting the World Gym owners graciously allowed Garrett, at age 12, to work out under his tutelage. “Normally, the rule is 13 or older. We got a special exemption, that Garrett would be working out with me, and his doctors approved him to do so. He has just been taking to it like a maniac. As soon as he gets off the bus, I get the phone call, ‘When are we going to the gym?’”

Waves of support

Garrett’s brush with death, which came about six months after his father Kirk Rogers, a former Army Ranger, passed away unexpectedly in November 2015, sparked the #gmoneystrong wave. G-Money is Garrett’s nickname — bestowed by his Little League coach Josh Wharton.

Along with the hashtag were displays of “22,” Garrett’s travel ball uniform number.

The avalanche of support came from numerous youth and scholastic teams, area businesses, Sussex County’s farming community, politicians, local motorsports teams, dance groups, healthcare affiliates, military personnel, police departments and fire service and others.

State Sen. Bryan Pettyjohn and then Delaware Gov. Jack Markell teamed up on a “22.” Staff at Nanticoke Memorial Hospital formed a huge human “22” in the parking lot.

Postings came from Delaware’s pride of the Women’s National Basketball Association, Elena Delle Donne along with the Briscoe Brothers, a famous professional wrestling tandem in Laurel.

NASCAR star Joey Logano even weighed in.

Derrik Gibson, a minor league baseball player then with the Binghamton Mets with ties to Seaford, cast his support. Chicago White Sox catcher Kevan Smith and pitcher Daniel Webb were pictured holding baseballs with the No. 22.

Garrett’s “22” was on display outside Camden Yards with the Baltimore Orioles mascot, courtesy of the major league club. The Orioles, by the way, are Garrett’s favorite major league team.

“I have never forgotten all of the prayers, support and love that we were surrounded with from the day it happened through now,” said Mrs. Rogers Palermo. “I could never say ‘thank you’ enough to the family, friends, community members, doctors, nurses, teachers and the rehab staff who have gotten Garrett to where he is today. He has worked incredibly hard, but he hasn’t gotten where he is alone. We will be forever in your debt.”

And now, after nearly three years on the sideline, hard work, rehab and determination, Garrett Rogers is back in uniform playing ball.

K.C. Conaway, a friend of the family, shared his reaction to the comeback kid on social media.

“Wow! Tell me God isn’t in control!” said Mr. Conaway in a Facebook post. “I know Kirk Rogers is smiling down on this one and so proud. Congrats to Garrett, Wendy, Jim and family. I know this is a day you will never forget. Today, this entire community should be smiling because we are watching a miracle.”

Mrs. Rogers Palermo said, “I never doubted his ability. That week (prior to the Sports at the Beach game) driving in the car I was like, ‘Wouldn’t that be a miracle, if he got up there and hit a home run? But just hitting the ball would be awesome.’ I told him at the beginning of this journey, ‘If this is what you want to do, we won’t give up. We’ll just keep going until we can make it happen.’ He doesn’t give up on things he loves. He does not give up.”

For video of Garrett’s home run, visit this link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sbg_U-DSlwI&feature=share

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