They played for T.J.

Published 7:18 pm Tuesday, June 7, 2011

T.J. ANDREWS throws out the first pitch during the opening rounds of games on Saturday for a tournament held to assist the Andrews family with medical and other expenses.

T.J. EYES THE CATCHER as he prepares to throw out the first pitch. Saturday was also the first day he was able to play baseball.

All day Saturday, 23 teams of youth baseball players from North Florida, South Georgia and Alabama did one thing—they played for T.J.

T.J. Andrews is the 11-year-old Bainbridge boy whose left hand was partially blown off at his grandmothers’ beauty shop on Faceville Highway on April 1.

On Saturday, T.J. began the day by throwing out the first pitch in at least four games and later played on his own home team, the Bainbridge Bulldogs, for the first time since the accident.

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He even signed a poster hung from one of the dugouts that read “We play for T.J.”

“I’m really glad they are doing this for me,” said T.J., who loves the game of baseball and has played since he was a toddler. The tournament was held at the new ball fields at the Bill Reynolds Sports Complex.

“This is a happy day,” said Toka Andrews, T.J.’s mother. “It’s been a really good day.”

Mrs. Andrews said her younger son has undergone several surgeries on the hand, which was his dominant hand, at Tampa General Hospital in Tampa, Fla. He has several more surgeries to go before a prosthesis is even considered, Mrs. Andrews said.

“It’s just a process,” Mrs. Andrews said. “We’re keeping him positive.”

And Saturday’s tournament was one more step toward healing. There have been many, and there are more to come, she said.

Toka and Roger Andrews say they have been very fortunate to have a support system in the baseball family.

“That many people in his corner has really been an awesome thing,” Mrs. Andrews said.

Other unexpected parts of the healing process has been Major League Baseball player Reid Brignac of the Tampa Bay Rays, who has maintained a friendship with T.J. throughout his ordeal, regularly texting and calling him to this day. As Mrs. Andrews said of Brignac, “He’s a regular guy who plays baseball for a living.”

Another good experience was that T.J. played catch with Casey Wheeler, a one-handed baseball player who recently graduated from the Aucilla Christian Academy in Monticello, Fla., which finished among the state’s final four teams. Wheeler batted third in the line-up and was born with a defective hand. But as he and T.J. threw the ball, Wheeler was demonstrating how he throws the baseball then transfers the glove to that hand, catching the ball with the same hand.

As Mrs. Andrews said, there’s only so much surgeons, doctors and family can do to allow a young man to heal—from the outside. But with the likes of Brignac, Wheeler and the supporters at Saturday’s tournament, the healing process is taking place on the inside of the youngster.

“It’s making such a difference in this process,” Mrs. Andrews said.

THROWING A BASEBALL ARE, facing the camera, T.J. Andrews and Casey Wheeler.