Sports

Grass is Green-er for Klahowya baseball

Klahowya’s Seth Green, shown here sharing a laugh at practice Friday, overcame a burst fracture of the No. 7 vertebrae in his neck last summer to return in time for the current baseball season. - Photo by Jesse Beals
Klahowya’s Seth Green, shown here sharing a laugh at practice Friday, overcame a burst fracture of the No. 7 vertebrae in his neck last summer to return in time for the current baseball season.
— image credit: Photo by Jesse Beals

By AARON MANAGHAN

Sports editor

Although he hit the floor almost as soon as the heavy load of sheet rock pulled him over the edge of the unguarded staircase, the fall itself still feels like a lifetime to Klahowya sophomore Seth Green.

“I still have little flashbacks to when I was falling and the feeling I had,” he said.

Green, the catcher for the Eagles baseball team, was working at a construction site in Allyn this summer when he made a split-second decision that would change his life forever. It also was a decision that nearly ended his life.

But even more importantly, it was a decision that saved the life of another.

“It was one of those freak accidents,” Klahowya senior Rusty Devitt said. “He pretty much saved my life.”

Green, his brother Jordan and Devitt were working together at a job site in Allyn for Devitt’s dad, Darren, on July 13, a Friday. Seth was dropping large pieces of sheet rock over the edge of the unprotected staircase while the others then took those loads out of the house. Jordan had just given clearance to Seth for what was to be the final load.

“I was on my last load,” Seth said. “I wanted to get it over with quickly so I made my load extremely big.”

As Seth began to send the heavy sheet rock over the more than 10-foot drop, he caught just a glimpse of someone below.

“Just as I’m getting ready to throw it, I saw someone walking underneath me,” he said.

What happened next saved the life of Devitt, who unknowingly entered the room right where Seth was about to dump the sheet rock.

“I just froze up,” Seth said.

The weight, already in motion, was too much for Green to stop. The load pulled Seth over the drop with it, but it gave Devitt enough time to move.

“It was like I was falling in slow motion,” he said. “I was like, ‘This is probably going to hurt a lot.’”

As he began to fall, Seth tried to grab the ledge of the staircase, catching just enough of it to turn him around so that he was falling back-first. When Seth landed — between two floor joists luckily — the sheet rock came crashing down on top of him.

“I heard a crash and then I was like, ‘Oh man. Someone got hurt,’” Jordan said. “I don’t remember very much of it. My adrenaline was rushing.”

In an effort to help his brother, Jordan lifted Seth from the rubble, taking him outside while Devitt and coworker Jeremy Woods tried to contact Seth’s parents.

“It wasn’t smart looking back, but I picked him up and got him outside,” Jordan said. “It was very clear right off the bat that he was dazed. I thought he just got a concussion.”

In pain from the fall, Seth got up and began walking around the yard.

“As soon as he fell — man, he’s so tough — he was trying to walk it off,” Devitt said. “It was crazy. I probably would have just lied there.”

“I was like, ‘I’m fine. I can walk,’” Seth recalled. “My head hurt but I thought, ‘I just fell off a roof. It’s gonna hurt.’”

Unaware of the extent of Seth’s injuries, Jordan contacted his parents Rob and Sara and arranged for Woods to meet Rob with Seth while Devitt and Jordan finished the work at the house.

“All we knew was that he fell and hurt himself,” Rob Green said. “I’m one of those dads that’s like, ‘OK, how bad could it really be?’”

Initially, Rob was going to take Seth to a doctors clinic in South Kitsap — the closest place from Allyn. On the way, they both realized Seth’s injuries were going to be more than the clinic could handle. Instead Rob took his son to Harrison Medical Center Silverdale.

While Rob went inside to get some help, Seth felt the pain building and thought if he got out of the car and walked around some more, it would ease. After snaking out of the car, Seth walked inside to everyone’s surprise despite having limited upper-body mobility beyond his arms.

“I walked into the hospital and everyone was looking at me weird,” he said. “I was walking pretty funny. (The nurses) were surprised to see me walking.

“It didn’t even cross my mind that something bad would happen.”

Doctors soon discovered that Seth had suffered a burst fracture of the No. 7 vertebrae in his neck. He would be sedated and airlifted to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle, something he didn’t realize until he woke up on the chopper, seeing two large windows on both sides of him.

“I didn’t know what was going on,” Seth said. “I was pretty scared.”

An uncertain future

When Rob found out his son was going to have to be airlifted to Harborview, a whirlwind of doubt clouded his mind.

“We knew there was a problem,” he said. “Then when they told us they were flying him to Harborview, we started to panic.”

Suddenly, Rob and the rest of the Green family found their world in upheaval. A family that had partially built itself upon a foundation of baseball was shaken.

“My first thoughts were, ‘Will he be able to play baseball this summer?’” Rob said. “Then we found out about Harborview and my thoughts were, ‘Will we still have him?’”

Baseball became an afterthought as Seth’s family struggled to come to terms with the fact he might not walk again.

“We were still not knowing for sure what was gonna happen,” Rob said.

“I lost sleep from it,” Devitt added. “I can only imagine Jordan and his parents. And what Seth was going through. That was tough.”

After two days of uncertainty, the family finally got good news: Seth would walk again.

“They were pretty optimistic when they got him,” Rob said. “It was just such a relief that he was going to be able to walk.

“Somebody was looking out for Seth that day. He was inches from death.”

But the line between walking and being paralyzed was a thin one.

“When they took him to the hospital, we found out that when I carried him outside, if he’d turned his neck, it would have sent bone spurs into his spinal cavity,” Jordan said. “That would have paralyzed him.”

Seth was never as worried as anyone else about a potential paralysis diagnosis.

“I never really thought I was going to be paralyzed,” he said. “I remember right when I fell, I moved my legs.”

It wasn’t the first time Seth had a scare like that. As a 12-year-old, he broke his back playing football, fracturing a vertebrae in the center of his back.

“Most people don’t go through either,” Rob said.

With the family reassured that Seth would be able to walk again, the focus went back to baseball.

“Just seeing him in that situation, you don’t have baseball on your mind but you do,” KSS coach Dave Neet said. “And probably more for his sake than for anything. Baseball is such a big part of his life. You hate to see it get taken away from a kid like that.”

Rob Green agreed.

“We have put countless months every year into baseball,” Rob said. “Their mother is into it, I’m into it. It has become our bonding agent.”

Having coached his sons the last three years, and Jordan since he was 7 years old, Rob was worried about balancing out his commitment to Jordan’s baseball teams and being involved with Seth if he couldn’t play.

“My biggest worry was if Seth wasn’t playing baseball, how could I continue to stay involved at the same level?” he said. “They don’t love baseball because I push them. They love baseball.”

Jordan shared the fear as both brothers were excited to share Jordan’s senior year on the diamond.

“After last year, I was really looking forward to having my senior year with my brother; going deep into the season, having success with the team,” Jordan said. “And us growing closer as teammates obviously do. It really scared me that such a great baseball player like him might not play again.”

The halo

While the threat of paralysis passed, Seth still had numerous obstacles to overcome. Surgery would require just a month to a month-and-a-half recovery time, but Seth would likely have to shelve baseball for the year.

“I was like, ‘Well, I’ll get the halo then,’” Seth said.

The halo, a large brace screwed into the patient’s head to stabilize the neck, would take three-to-six months recovery time, but Seth would likely be able to return thereafter. Still, the halo came with its own set of challenges.

“He had a lot of discomfort obviously,” Rob Green said. “You can tell Seth had a lot of problems getting screws put into his head.”

“While they were screwing the screws in my head, it was the worst pain I’ve ever felt in my life,” Seth said.

After the pain subsided, Seth said he was overwhelmed with the emotions of everything that had happened in the previous two days.

“When I first got my halo on I broke down,” he said. “Me and my mom and dad. It was really emotional. I got kind of teared up. I was scared. I didn’t know what would happen then.”

A visit from Jordan and several of Jordan’s teammates at the hospital two hours after being fitted in his halo also went a long way in helping Seth emotionally.

“I was really happy to see them,” he said.

After being released, Seth was limited only by what he felt he could do, Rob said. Seth was just happy to be home.

“I got home and all my friends were calling me,” he said. “(Teammate) Brandon (Neet) and a couple other kids came over to visit me. It was good to see them. I don’t really remember much of it because of the drugs.”

But one part he clearly remembers is his brother’s attentiveness to his needs.

“When I was in the halo, my brother was always asking me if I needed anything, wanted anything,” Seth said. “He was going out of his way to make me feel comfortable.”

Devitt lent a hand as well.

“Rusty was always coming over, making sure no one was making fun of me,” Seth said.

For Jordan, it was simply what a brother should do.

“After the surgery — I wasn’t told to do this by my parents or anything — he was basically bedridden,” Jordan said. “I waited on him hand and foot. I was scared to death.”

Eager to get going as soon as he could, Seth began sneaking in certain activities, like walking hills near Klahowya. He even tried to step out on the diamond in his halo.

“I’d go out and play some baseball with Brandon and them,” Seth said. “It was painful but I was so bored.”

During a check-up in August, just 10 weeks after getting his halo on, doctors told Seth that his recovery was coming along nicely, adding he may even leave his halo early.

“But they said, ‘Don’t get your hopes up. It’s just a maybe,’” Seth said. “So of course I got my hopes up.”

While they told him to wear it for another month to be safe, the screws had loosened and were hurting Seth as a result. Seth’s doctors decided that it’d be OK to remove the halo as long as Seth was careful about returning to activity.

“It was really emotional,” Seth said. “I was so happy. I even gave the doctor a hug.”

Bouncing back

Just 10 weeks in, Seth was out of his halo. Two weeks later, he was back hard at work.

“He was supposed to wait two weeks before doing any weights,” Rob said. “But he was so nervous about playing baseball he started lifting on his arms and his legs. He worked his butt off.”

With Klahowya’s starting catcher spot open, Devitt, one of the top pitchers in the state, also helped motivate Seth back to the field.

“’I need a catcher. Let’s go,’” Seth said Devitt would tell him. “He was a big motivator for me. He helped me out a lot.”

Seth began not only lifting more weights and preparing for baseball, but also worked through range-of-motion exercises for his neck — something he said he still doesn’t have back entirely. The hard work payed off as Seth returned to school stronger than he’s ever been.

“He’s bigger than I am now,” Jordan said of his “little” brother. “He’s grown into a very good baseball player.”

His return to form — Seth hit .275 with 10 runs his freshman year — and his subsequent development are what have surprised his coaches and teammates most.

“He’s playing at a higher level than he was last year,” Neet said. “He’s such a great kid. He scared a lot of people.”

More than anyone else however, Seth said his dad helped him get back into playing shape.

“I’d always be out there,” Seth said. “And my dad was always encouraging me.”

Driven to bounce back once he got out of the halo, Seth said he’s been able to find some silver linings.

“I figure if I wasn’t in the halo, I might not have been as determined to get back,” he said, counting the summer among his best.

Growing closer

His desire to return wasn’t the only positive change brought on by the collective experience. In addition to his drive to return, Seth changed a lot as a person.

“The first thing he thought of was, ‘If I had died, would people have mourned for me?’” Rob remembered of his son. “He wanted to apologize to anyone he needed to. It was a life-changing experience for him.”

But not just for him.

“Jordan realized he came close to losing his brother,” Rob said.

“It definitely strengthened our relationship,” Jordan added. “It made me realize if something had happened where he would have died or something, I would have felt like I hadn’t said the things I should have.”

Still, the changes were most profound on Seth.

“I just started thinking, ‘If I die, would anyone care? Would anyone come to my funeral?’” Seth said. “So I just started wanting to be nice. I go out of my way to be nice to people, show them that I care.”

That brought Seth closer to his family, particularly his mother, and friends.

“I don’t see us as friends,” Rusty said. “I see us as brothers. We’re just brothers, the three of us.”

Both Devitt and Jordan gained a new level of respect for Seth out of his decision to put himself in harm’s way.

“He cares enough to put himself in danger,” Devitt said.

Still, Seth said he never for one moment thought to blame his friend for what happened.

“It’s no one’s fault,” Seth said. “A bunch of things went wrong at the same time.”

Now, the families can share a laugh looking back on it.

“We said, ‘Hey, next time Rusty’s on his own,’” Rob joked. “And now he’s Rusty’s catcher.”

“Catchers and pitchers have to have that bond,” Seth said. “That just got us closer.”

Back on the field

With Seth able to return this season, the Greens are looking forward to their final season together.

“This year is our last year playing together for school ball,” Rob said. “It was tremendous relief that we’re gonna have this last year together as a baseball family.”

Seth’s excited to help send his brother out with a bang.

“Last year I was really excited because I never got to play on a team with my brother before,” Seth said. “So I really wanted to be back on the team this year. Hopefully we’ll do pretty well.”

A twist of fate will now have Seth largely catching for Jordan, as Devitt found out this week that he’ll miss four-to-six weeks with a muscle injury in his throwing arm.

“In the offseason, I was not expecting to be pitching at all,” Jordan said of his expanded role on the team. “He’d be one of the few catchers I’d want catching for me.”

“Even with Rusty out now, I still think we’ll do good,” Seth added.

While Devitt will have to wait a little while before throwing to Seth again, he too was glad Seth was able to return.

“I’m glad he’s back,” Devitt said. “Initially we thought he wouldn’t be able to play this year. But there were more important things to think about than baseball.”

With the range of motion in his neck coming back more each day, Seth said the only accident-related issue he still faces is a light ribbing from teammates and friends.

“All my friends that have known me, they always give me crap about how I’m injury prone,” he said. “They always tell me to be careful, wear a helmet and stuff.”

Just another silver lining in what could have been a much darker cloud.

“He realized how many friends he has in this community,” Rob said.

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