Talon Harris may yet become a professional baseball player. It's just going to take a little longer than he expected.
"I still have the goal," Soddy-Daisy's former homer-hitting outfielder said Wednesday.
A five-tool player whose potential used to be scribbled in numerous scouts' notebooks, Harris is on a slow, sometimes bumpy road back.
He stole 35 bases as a junior, outrunning the strongest arms. He tied teammate James Fowlkes for the area home run lead with 18. He hit for average and opposing coaches learned quickly the futility of testing his arm.
Yet Harris now winces when he breaks into top speed, which is still a lopsided jog, and whereas he once was so adept at swapping barbs with teammates, coaches and sports writers he now hesitates briefly to connect the right words for a stinging rejoinder. And when he does deliver that stinger, he does so with a husky whisper, the remnant of a crushed larynx.
Yet every day begins the same for Harris.
"I thank God for allowing me to still be on this earth and for allowing me to proceed in baseball," he said. "I still want to play and to make it professionally."
He might still, though even the most optimistic hope as much for his adaptability as his athletic ability.
"Sometimes I have to remind him to be patient," said Soddy-Daisy baseball assistant Jamie Tricoglou, who works often with Harris. "I have to tell him that it's going to take time because he had a brain injury. It isn't a disability because it will heal, but we're in a marathon, not a sprint."
Harris is on the torturous road of recovery from a truck accident that left him with numerous broken bones from wrists to ribs to pelvis to ankles.
On the morning of March 3, less than a week before the 2012 season began, Harris' pickup left the road and centered a massive tree. The impact virtually ripped his nose from his face and left numerous teeth spread through the cab of his truck and across the field. Yet all the debilitating breaks, abrasions, cuts, contusions and bruises were nothing compared to the head injury that led to bleeding and hyperextended nerve endings in the brain.
"On my way to the hospital I talked with one of the officers that had been at the scene. He told me to prepare myself," Soddy-Daisy coach Jared Hensley recalled. "It was hard initially not to think the worst, and even the first month or two it was a roller-coaster."
After initial surgery, Harris was in a coma. When he did awaken, he'd move an arm or swing his hand or follow somebody with his eyes.
"And the next day it seemed like he'd take three steps back," Hensley said. "Even after doctors decided he was going to live, they didn't know if he'd be able to breathe on his own."
Days now are so much better, though, even those with three to five hours of wracking rehabilitation.
"In the beginning we just didn't know," recalled Lori Humphreys, Harris' mother. "They just can't tell you with a brain injury, and then they didn't know if he would recover or if he'd recover to the point you'd never know he'd had an accident."
Today it's a good day if he can come close to outrunning 13-year-old brother Devin or forcing Lori to duck a line drive after she's delivered a whiffleball pitch.
They might take the days at a slower pace, but now they consider every day a good day.
"We're thankful," she said. "We've counted our blessings. Today could be totally different. He could've died. Every day is a happy day and we're going to take advantage of this miracle, and Talon's goals remain the same. It's just going to take longer."
Those goals include attending Cleveland State, where baseball coach Mike Policastro continues to hold a scholarship.
"I've had to learn to be more patient, but I hope to go to school next year," Harris said.
And will he again play baseball?
"We started calling him Wolverine the year before his accident," Hensley said. "He had a torn labrum repaired and was back playing football less than four months later. He had a broken collarbone one week and it was healed the next. He'd have cuts or scrapes one day, and the next day they'd be gone.
"So, yeah, I thought he'd be here for Thanksgiving, but I never thought he'd have been up at the field hitting or throwing or that I would be able to carry on conversations with him. I don't know if he'll play again, but then he's the only person I know of that could've lived through that [accident]."
Tricoglou always was the one to be brutally honest with all of the Trojans players, and he hasn't let up on Harris.
"It could always be worse," he said, mindful of his son Kaiden's daily battle with cerebral palsy. "He's been through a rough stretch, but he persevered through it. I told Jared, 'Who cares? He's alive and there'll come a time when God and Talon or God and Kaiden say it's time [to be well]. You take it day by day. God gave us an opportunity, and we all need to be thankful for all of it."
Ward Gossett is an assistant sports editor and writer for the Times Free Press. Ward has a long history in Chattanooga journalism. He actually wrote a bylined story for the Chattanooga News-Free Press as a third-grader. He Began working part-time there in 1968 and was hired full time in 1970. Ward now covers high school athletics, primarily football, wrestling and baseball and University of Tennessee at Chattanooga wrestling. Over a 40-year career, he has covered ...