This was the kind of moment Grant Baird had spent nearly 10 months dreaming about.
Bottom of the seventh inning, one on, two out and Lee’s Summit clinging to a one-run lead at Lee’s Summit West. A shallow fly ball heads his way.
A running, diving, full-extension catch. A 1-0 victory and the Suburban Gold Conference championship.
“The fact that he made that diving catch that clinched the league championship was a little bit of karma,” Lee’s Summit baseball coach Jim Mellody said. “He deserved that play and I hope that’s one he remembers for the rest of his life.”
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It was a dream come true for Baird, but it was a dream that seemed elusive as he battled back from a severe ankle injury that wiped out his football season. Through the ups and downs of his recovery, it was making catches like that – or just playing baseball again – that provided his goal and his motivation.
And while Lee’s Summit failed to make a second-straight trip to the Class 5 state tournament – Rockhurst crushed the Tigers 20-3 in the Class 5 District 13 final May 17 at Raymore-Peculiar – Baird still enjoyed the reward for all his hard work.
“This season has been amazing,” Baird said before the district tournament. “Ever since I got hurt in football, this is all my mind has been on. And it’s been everything that I’ve hoped for so far.”
This was supposed to be the senior year most kids only dream about.
Baird was going to be the starting quarterback for Lee’s Summit, a goal he had worked toward since he started playing football. In the spring he would be the Tigers’ starting center fielder, just as he was when they made it all the way to state the year before.
That all changed during a preseason football camp last August in Jefferson City. Baird was dropping back to make a pass. As the line closed in, he rolled to the outside.
“Then the linebacker kind of popped me up and some guy came over from the side, and my whole entire ankle popped out of place,” Baird said.
Not only was Baird’s right ankle wrecked, his right fibula was broken, too.
“It was the type of injury that the moment it happened on the field, everybody knew that his season was over,” said Bill Baird, Grant’s father and the newly elected mayor of Lee’s Summit.
Grant Baird realized it, too. Instead of leading the Tigers down the field that fall, he would be watching them from the sidelines with his leg in a knee-length boot cast. It was hard to do early in the season as the Tigers struggled to establish their offense. And it was hard not being on the field when they won five of their last eight games.
“It was really tough for me, because ever since I was little I always wanted to be the quarterback,” Baird said. “But I knew things like that happened, and that’s why I automatically put all my focus on getting ready for baseball.”
And Baird had made it clear early on that he wasn’t going to miss baseball.
“When I heard about it the day after (he was injured) … the first thing he said was, ‘Don’t worry, I’ll be ready for baseball season,’” Mellody said. “I had to tell him, ‘Grant that’s not I’m worried about right now. You take care of you and baseball season will take care of itself.’”
Baird was on track to be ready for baseball as fall turned into winter. The boot was off by end of football season, and he was almost ready to start running and put in some time in the batting cage.
All he had left was a procedure in December to remove some screws from his leg. That’s when the infection hit. He was hospitalized for three days, and he had to wear the boot again.
“I couldn’t believe it,” Baird said. “It was tough for me to accept that I was going to be back in a boot for a while. Just another setback like that was tough.”
It was tough for Bill Baird, who watched his son’s spirits sag as he took him back to the hospital for daily antibiotics IVs. It didn’t help that this was happening over the holiday season.
“He got pretty low there for a little bit, but we’re faithful people and he’s a faithful person,” Bill Baird said. “All year long we’ve been saying everything happens for a reason. As parents we kept saying he’s going to learn to overcome adversity. And he fought back really hard to get here today.”
Baird overcame the infection in time for baseball practice but he knew he wasn’t at full speed when the season began in March. So did Mellody. But he still saw flashes Baird’s speed and range in the outfield.
“I think he was holding back,” Mellody said. “He was about 90 percent, but still 90 percent of Grant Baird is better than a lot of center fielders.”
Baird sat out Lee’s Summit’s first two games but played regularly after that. With every game he said he could feel himself getting back to his old form. A bad back hampered him in late April, but not for long.
And he started making diving catches again.
“He’s learned how to take care of his body,” Bill Baird said. “He got over that (back injury) really fast. When you’re so used to sticking your foot in a bucket of ice every night that when it comes to taking good care of your body in other ways you just learn to just do it and how important it is.”
That loss in districts not only ended Lee’s Summit’s season, it also ended Baird’s athletic career. Mellody said several small colleges and junior colleges were interested in Baird, but he’s headed to Central Missouri to study aviation and become a commercial pilot.
He’ll go there with a better appreciation of what it takes to overcome adversity and make a dream come true.
“He’s very proud. We’re all proud,” Bill Baird said. “I don’t know if there was ever a point he thought, ‘Oh it’s not worth it.’ He’s definitely not like that.”