Parker Byrd was 3-plus years old when he took a bad-hop grounder to his face, with the impact leaving an imprint of the baseball on his forehead.
Rather than crying, Byrd was thrilled.
He wore the seams of the ball on his forehead like a badge of honor.
Byrd, after all, has loved baseball since before he could walk. When he was about 8 months old, he would sit in his crib and smack a ball with a plastic bat – a Fisher-Price toy that played “Take Me Out To The Ballgame” on a constant loop.
By the time he was 4, Byrd couldn’t wait for his father, Jeff, to get home from work so that they could go practice at the closest ball field in their hometown of Laurinburg, North Carolina.
But Byrd wasn’t satisfied with just practicing baseball. He had to dress the part, even at age 4. That meant that Byrd wore a full baseball uniform, and he even had his father play the national anthem on his phone before practice could begin.
One of Byrd’s biggest goals was to play baseball for East Carolina. He had committed to the Pirates, and he was on the verge of achieving his dream when he suffered a life-altering injury.
Following a horrific boating accident, Byrd had his right leg amputated nearly seven months ago — on Aug. 4 to be precise.
Byrd, though, is undaunted. He still believes he will play college baseball again.
“I’m 100 percent sure I will play next year,” said Byrd, an aspiring doctor who rarely misses an ECU practice or home game. “I’ve surrounded myself with people who believe in me. My teammates believe I can come back. My coaches believe in me, and my family and friends do, too.
“I just have to get strength back in my right leg. I have a lack of muscle in my right hamstring. I’m doing a lot of hamstring work.
“Step by step – I have to learn how to run again.”
Byrd, 19, currently walks without crutches, using just a cane to help him get around.
Simply put: There’s no stopping Parker Byrd.
On Saturday July 23, 2022, Byrd went boating/”tubing” with his girlfriend, Alaina Butera, who is now a freshman at NC State, and four of his fellow incoming freshmen at East Carolina. Three of those teammates are outfielder/infielder Miles Curley, first baseman Colby Thorndyke and second baseman/outfielder Dixon Williams.
We at D1Baseball have chosen not to name the fourth would-be teammate, who is no longer at ECU. That fourth teammate was driving the boat that fateful day.
According to Byrd, here’s what happened:
Byrd and Williams were on the inner tube being pulled by the boat. Suddenly, the rope connecting the tube and the boat became entangled. Due to that circumstance, the tube got pulled toward the boat … and its propeller.
Instead of stopping the boat, the driver, in a panic, mistakenly put the boat in reverse. Or, in a different account he gave Byrd, the boat somehow got knocked in reverse.
While Williams escaped injury, both of Byrd’s legs were hit by the propeller. His right leg, though, was more severely damaged.
“As soon as the propellers hit me, I pushed off the boat with my left hand,” Byrd said. “Miles Curley immediately jumped into the water to help me.
“Miles is from (Largo) Florida. One of his friends died in a boating accident. Because of that, he knew exactly what to do. Miles and Colby used their shirts as tourniquets around my legs to stop the bleeding.
“Alaina called 911, and Colby started waving down boats to help us because the rope was caught up in our propeller.”
The first boat that stopped declined to help, saying they had kids on board and did not want to expose them to what was a bloody scene. But the second boat that stopped did help, and, as luck would have it, there was a nurse on board.
Byrd was moved on to that second boat. They drove him to the marina, where an ambulance was waiting. The ambulance sped to Washington Hospital, and, from there, a helicopter was waiting to airlift Byrd to ECU Health.
“The only reason I’m alive today is how all those people around me reacted,” Byrd said. “What happened with the boat was an accident. I still text back and forth every once in a while with (the driver). I know he feels terrible about what happened.
“My bond with Miles, Colby and Dixon is different than with any other teammate because of the traumatic event we lived through.”
There’s no stopping Parker Byrd … or his grace and ability to forgive.
On the afternoon of July 23, Jeff Byrd, who is a pediatrician, was in Laurinburg when he got the type of tearful phone call every parent fears.
“Parker’s been hurt,” Alaina told him. “I don’t know if he’s going to live.”
Jeff had spent that afternoon cleaning out his closet. He was on his way to the Goodwill store when he got the call from Alaina. He immediately slammed on the brakes, did a u-turn and rushed home to gather the rest of his family: his wife Mitzi, a former nurse, and their daughters, Gracen 17, and Brinley, 10.
“I start flying down I-95, going 110 to 120 mph,” Jeff said. “I’m flashing my lights. I’m passing people on the shoulder of the road.
“All I’m thinking is, ‘Parker’s going to die, and I’m not going to see him again’.”
Likely due to his understandably aggressive driving, Jeff got a flat tire. He managed to exit the highway, and – fortunately – there was a tire store 800 feet away.
“Nobody at the tire store spoke English, and we don’t speak Spanish,” Jeff said. “But they could see I was in distress.
“They had one tire in the whole shop that would fit my car, and it didn’t have much tread on it. But they slapped that tire on my car like they were a NASCAR pit crew.”
Meanwhile, ECU coach Cliff Godwin was hosting a recruit on campus when his Apple watch “started blowing up.”
Godwin, who was focused on the recruit, finally looked down at his watch and saw that Jeff Byrd had called several times. Godwin finally excused himself to take the call and immediately raced to the hospital, beating Parker there.
“My heart just dropped when I got that call,” Godwin said.
Parker Byrd, though, was up to the challenge. He endured 14 surgeries in a grueling 28-day hospital stay – an average of one operation every other day.
Including the surgeries that followed, Byrd endured 22 operations in 45 days.
But there’s no stopping Parker Byrd.
When the amputation was performed, Byrd was understandably quiet. No TV or radio in his hospital room.
The sadness was palpable.
A short time later, a nurse asked Byrd what he wanted more than anything.
“To have the sun hit my face,” Byrd said, “and to visit with my little sister.”
That would be Brinley, who was too young to be allowed into his hospital room.
And so it was arranged. On August 7, three days after the amputation, that nurse wheeled Byrd outside of the hospital, where he felt the sun on his face and the warm embrace of Brinley and other loved ones.
“I think he cried more about getting to see Brin than when he lost his leg,” Jeff said. “He loves his sisters more than anything.”
Then again, the Byrd family story has always been about love.
Jeff fell in love with Mitzi while they were in high school, and he only went to East Carolina because that’s where she was headed.
Parker inherited that love for ECU. As a freshman in high school, Byrd went to three camps: Duke, ECU and Coastal Carolina. But there was no doubt where he wanted to go because he habitually wore ECU Pirates gear in between his games.
Told that his choice to wear ECU colors might keep him from getting other offers, Byrd shot back.
“I don’t want to be recruited by all these other schools,” Byrd said. “I want to be a Pirate.”
Similarly, Byrd has remained committed to Alaina — and she to him — since they started dating in the ninth grade.
Alaina, an 18-year-old who aspires to become an environmental lawyer, said she had “the biggest crush” on Byrd for two years before they started dating.
“I was just waiting on him to like me back,” Alaina said.
Alaina said leaving Byrd after the horrific accident was never a thought in her mind.
“I really love Parker,” Alaina said. “He’s the guy I want to be with. Him not having his leg doesn’t faze me at all.”
Alaina has experience in helping to care for someone in Parker’s situation. In 2012, her grandfather lost his leg in a motorcycle accident.
But there’s also the thought that the loyalty that Byrd has also put out into the universe – to his family, to his baseball teams and to his friends – has been returned to him.
“Parker is a very loyal person,” Alaina said. “When he loves something or someone, he takes it seriously.”
Because there’s just no stopping Parker Byrd … or Alaina Butera.
Had the accident not happened, Parker Byrd could have played four years at ECU, and people might not have known his name on a national basis.
Now he has a chance to impact so many more people as evidenced by a speech he recently gave to a church youth group.
As for his injuries, the fact that surgeons were able to save Byrd’s right knee and amputate below it was important in regards to his future mobility with a prosthetic leg.
On Monday March 6, Byrd is going to Chicago, where he is set to be fitted for a much-improved prosthetic.
Former East Carolina first baseman Spencer Brickhouse, now the director of operations at Youngs Physical Therapy and Sports Performance in Greenville, has been working with Byrd on a consistent basis.
“We’re building up his muscles as he gets comfortable with his prosthetic,” Brickhouse said. “Every Thursday, I do hitting and fielding stuff with him, easing him back into baseball.”
Byrd, who was a switch-hitter until middle school, has brought back his lefty swing lately in the hopes that southpaw stance can get him back on the field quicker.
“He is still re-learning his right-handed swing,” Brickhouse said. “The lefty swing is an interesting challenge.
“Parker is incredible. If what happened to him had happened to me, I would probably have shut down and gone into a dark hole. But he has found inspiration and optimism. I enjoy seeing his drive to not only get back to normal but to get back to playing baseball.”
Jeff and Mitzi Byrd recently sold their house in Laurinburg and moved to Greenville. Jeff became part of the medical team of Dr. Christopher L. Ozimek, a Greenville pediatrician who has wanted him to make this move for years.
Said Jeff: “We’re going to be in Greenville until Parker runs out on the field again or until he tells us he no longer wants to chase this dream.”
Godwin, though, said that this is much more than just a dream.
“With Parker’s heart and his mindset,” Godwin said, “I wouldn’t bet against him.”
As you know by now, there’s just no stopping Parker Byrd.
Check out Parker’s GoFundMe, here.