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Brawley resident overcomes disability to return to the baseball field as a high school coach

May 06, 2002|By ERIC GALVAN

Sports Writer

Bryan King has a lot of loves. He loves his family — his wife, Diane, his son, Kadin, his mom, Penny, his dad, Carlton — he loves his friends and he loves baseball.

But the morning of Feb. 1, 2001, his love and appreciation for all those grew greater.

A 1995 graduate of Brawley Union High, the 25-year-old was drafted by the Colorado Rockies professional baseball organization in '95, and after a year pitching at Yavapai College in Prescott, Ariz., was drafted by the Oakland Athletics. He never made it to "The Show" but did spend a year pitching at the University of Southern Colorado before arm injuries sidelined him.

He returned to the Imperial Valley and was offered a job as head freshman baseball coach by Brawley varsity coach Pedro Carranza and later was promoted to junior varsity head coach.


Back in the game he loved, doing one of the things he loved — helping youngsters develop their baseball skills — and with a newly born son, things couldn't have been better for King.

But early on that February day, while working the graveyard shift as a zanjero for the Imperial Irrigation District, King was making his routine water switches outside Brawley, going from drainage ditch to drainage ditch. About 2 a.m., as he was driving down a dirt road toward his next stop near Hastings and Jones roads, a knocked-down warning sign caused him to miss a drainage ditch, into which his truck flew. With his truck doing a 180-degree flip and the airbags not deploying, King hit his head on the steering wheel, breaking bones in his neck, back and snapping his spinal chord, causing instant paralysis.

"I never had nightmares, but I could picture it step by step. It was like slow motion. I could see myself hitting. It was like I was looking down from outside the truck — it was weird it was like a movie — and I could see my body being smashed inside the cab," said King.

With the strength he had left, he radioed for help and gave his exact location to colleagues and paramedics. Stuck in his truck, all that kept King going were thoughts of those he loved.

"All I could think about was my son and Diane and my parents. At first I didn't think I was going to make it through that night. I even told the guys on the radio, ‘Tell my son I love him, tell my parents I love them, tell Diane I love her … I don't know if I'm going to make it,' because I was hurting pretty bad," explained King, who was 24 at the time. "So it was all pretty scary."

One of the other things on King's mind during that time was his baseball team and Carranza.

"I thought about how I let him down. Of all the things, I couldn't help but think about that because he's given me opportunities and I didn't want to let him down. My job was to be out there coaching and I knew I wasn't going to be doing that," said King, now a paraplegic. "I don't know, I just felt I let him down because I wasn't there for him and I should've been there for him and still to this day I feel like that. I can't do most things, like I can't throw (batting practice), I can't run around, I can't coach J.V. and that was my job, to coach J.V. and get them ready for him."

After two months in a rehabilitation facility in San Diego, King returned to his parents' home in Brawley, where he continued his road to recovery.

It wasn't easy for him and it wasn't easy for those around him as an awkward situation challenged everyone in King's life.

"It was hard in the beginning. You lose sleep and you're tired, but you keep going and you learn to deal with it," said Diane King, Bryan's wife. "Bryan has always been a strong, courageous man and he has the strength and drive to do whatever he wants."

One of the things Bryan wanted was to get back on the baseball field. Everybody knew that, including Carranza.

While he knew King wouldn't be able to do the things he once could, Carranza looked past that King was in a wheelchair and saw a man who could still teach young players about baseball.

So before the 2001-02 season began, Carranza, without any hesitation, asked King to join his varsity coaching staff, an offer King accepted.

"I knew Bryan wanted to be out here and I wanted him out here. Really, I don't even think the guys on the team look at him as being in a wheelchair. They're able to look beyond that," said Carranza. "From a baseball standpoint, we just need each other. Bryan is as valuable to us as we are to him."

Unlike bigger cities where there are a number of activities to choose from for people in wheelchairs, the Imperial Valley is relatively lacking in such activities.

"Baseball's been pretty good to him and has been a major part of his life. You could see that coaching has brought the gleam back in his eyes," said Carlton King, Bryan's father. "It's a relief for me knowing that he's doing something he enjoys and loves. No, he can't compete, but he's still out there and is part of the team."

No, Bryan can't compete on the field like he used to and he can't throw batting practice, but to him that doesn't matter. Every morning when he wakes up, one of the things he looks forward to is going to practice and coaching.

He doesn't feel sorry for himself and he doesn't use his disability to make a point with his players. He just coaches as anyone else would.

"Every day … every day I look forward to coming out here. I love the game of baseball and I hope my son loves the game of baseball," said King. "I love being out here, I love being around Pedro and (assistant coach) Jerry Nuñez and (assistant coach) Steve Whitehead because those guys don't look at me as any different. They don't treat me like poor, poor Bryan. They treat me like one of the guys. And I appreciate them for that."

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