Player Spotlight: Keenan Briggs – One-Armed Home Run Hitter
KEENAN BRIGGS – ONE-ARMED HOME RUN HITTER
The phrase “hit a homerun” is commonly used in sports, business and life to describe tremendous accomplishments worthy of praise. The feeling one has when he or she puts the mechanics together to square up a bat that drives a ball over a fence is one of excitement, relief, and happiness all wrapped into one. Recently, in an 11-year-old Little League All-Star district game near Bowling Green, KY, one young man earned that feeling for the first time. Upon learning more about Keenan Briggs, it couldn’t have happened to a more well-deserving person.
To describe Keenan you’d have to start with his smile. In the words of his hitting coach, Todd Stinson, “His smile lights up a room.” No truer words have been spoken. I had the good pleasure of speaking with Keenan and his parents (Crista & Kevin Briggs) via a video chat recently and even though we were 150 miles away, technology allowed me a glimpse into what Todd was referring to in his statement. The kid’s smile is electric.
Keenan is extremely active. Living in an area of Kentucky where wildlife is abundant, it’s no surprise he likes hunting and fishing – turkey hunting is his favorite. Keenan also plays a lot of basketball. On the hardwood, he loves to shoot threepointers, while on the baseball field he “likes to pitch, but outfield is pretty fun, too.” Now that Keenan has accomplished one of his goals, hitting a home run, he’s working towards his next goal: pitching a no-hitter; however, he’s “good with whatever God gives him.”
Let’s set the stage for what would become an emotional and amazing moment. The Warren South 11U All-Stars were playing against cross-town rival Bowling Green East in the district tournament. The winner would move on to the state tournament in Corbin, Ky. If you’ve ever attended an All-Star game where two programs from the same city are competing for a spot at the state tournament, you can imagine the ballpark was abuzz with energy and anticipation. It was a typical summer evening in southern Kentucky, warm & humid, but with dusk quickly approaching the environment was therapeutic, especially with the haze of smoke from the grill and the decadent aroma of burgers and dogs. In the stands were friends and families of all the players, including several of Keenan’s mom and dad, Crista and Kevin, and former and current coaches who have seen him put in the sweat, blood and tears to become a better ball player.
“There was a higher power with us that evening,” said Kevin.
One word comes to mind when watching Keenan at bat: comfortable. In a sport where it takes all the might two hands can muster to have a chance to hit a little white ball, one might wonder how a boy who was born without part of his left arm look so comfortable at bat. I’ve got your answer: because he’s Keenan. Having played since he was five years old, he’s tried various methods to grip the bat. He used to put the nub on the bat, but in the recent past with the help of his hitting coach, Todd Stinson, he chokes up a little on the bat and only uses his right hand to swing. Stinson explains that he had a light bulb moment one evening. “The kid only has one arm, why are we working to make his swing emulate a two-handed swing?” From that moment on it was a “use what you’ve got” mentality which Keenan embraced, and his latest accomplishment is a testament to his being invested in the philosophy.
The hard work has been put in, fields are chalked, stands are packed, and Keenan is waiting on a pitch with a 3-2 count. It’s a fastball that he attacks with a swing from his right arm and the melodious sound of a baseball bouncing off an Easton’s sweet spot can be heard throughout the ballpark. “For those that have been around the game, you didn’t need to see the result, you knew the result after hearing that sound. I knew it was gone when I heard it,” said Stinson. The ball screamed over the fence and Keenan had accomplished something he worked so hard to achieve with so many special people around him to share in the moment.
Keenan’s mom, Crista, happened to be on the visitors’ side taking video of his at-bat because the first base angle captures what Coach Stinson needs for feedback. After the home run, as any parent would do, she got excited and began cheering ecstatically, but she quickly remembered she was on the opposing teams’ side and respectfully quieted down and hurried over to the Warren South side of the ballpark to cheer on Keenan as he rounded third and headed for home. Crista is all too familiar with the hard work Keenan has put into his craft, and she knew one day this would happen, but in her own words: “I didn’t know he was capable of doing that yet.” How did this happen? “You gotta work hard,” Keenan said with that electric grin.
Life is a rollercoaster full of emotions. Some good, some bad, some life-impacting. Earlier, when Coach Stinson shared he knew the result of Keenan’s hit because of the sound, it should be noted that he wasn’t there to witness it in person. He received the video from Crista, and upon getting the text and watching the clip, Coach Stinson, overcome with a flood of emotions and tears, fell to his knees among a crowd of people. After sharing the good news with those around him, an atmosphere of jubilation ensued, celebrating the hard work of a deserving young man.
Coach Stinson is more than Keenan’s hitting coach. He’s a family friend who is deeply invested in helping to provide Keenan baseball lessons and, more importantly, life lessons. Although Coach Stinson is the teacher, there have been multiple occasions where Keenan has taught him a thing or two, and not necessarily about baseball. For example, Coach Stinson works with a young autistic man whom he helps with hitting skills. There are occasions where a lesson may be more difficult than others, and Stinson embraces the young man for who he is and works through the challenges when they arise. On one particular evening, Keenan came in for his lesson as Coach Stinson was finishing with the other young man, and when the autistic young man noticed Keenan was missing his lower left arm, he was curious and approached Keenan. “Keenan has a calming effect on those around him,” said Stinson. Which is one of the attributes that make him wonderful and a big part as to why this young person with autism was able to better understand someone else’s challenge. After the two met and exchanged words, Coach Stinson learned the young autistic man was inspired by Keenan and that inspiration drove him to want to be like Keenan. Since their engagement, Coach Stinson has seen the autistic young man’s focus and drive improve, in part because he “wants to be like Keenan.” After Coach Stinson shared that story with me, I asked him to share with me one word that describes Keenan best. After thinking for a moment I could hear a sense of joy in his voice when he said, “Love. Love for the game, love for the family, love for his neighbor, love for the Lord.”
Oh, what a feeling. There are so many people involved in Keenan’s life who have experienced life-impacting emotions because he sent a little white ball over a fence. As a father, I was impacted most not from the home run, but something his dad, Kevin, shared with me that Keenan told him shortly after hitting the homer. The comment he shared is something every young person who has played the game has inquired at least once in their life and when Kevin shared this with me, I couldn’t help but tear up a bit.
“I’ve always wondered what that feels like.” — Keenan Briggs
Now you know, young man, now you know. You’re a special young man, Keenan, keep working hard.
Story by John Bennett – Baseball Youth | Twitter: Baseball Youth