Getting a chance to throw batting practice to your son is something a father looks forward to, and not a task Chad Holbrook takes for granted.
On Thursday, the former South Carolina and current College of Charleston baseball coach made the quick trip after practice and planned to toss some batting practice to his son Reece, a freshman at Hammond School. He didn’t know if that would be a possibility early on in his son’s life after Reece was diagnosed with leukemia when he was 2 years old.
“The odds were against him,” Chad said this week. “It was a very tough illness, and he had limited motor skills. But he has worked hard as a baseball player and the hurdles he has overcome.
“He values the joys in each day. The illness made him grow up a little quicker, but he has been a great inspiration for me and my wife. We just wanted him to live.”
Reece’s battle with leukemia was one of the driving forces for Chad and his wife Jennifer to start the Win Anyway Foundation in 2012. The foundation is dedicated to kids and their fight against cancer and other terminal illnesses.
Reece was diagnosed with the disease on Sept. 7, 2004, a day his father remembers vividly. Chad said something didn’t look right when he saw a bruise on his son’s abdomen. So he and his wife took his son to get checked out.
The doctor diagnosed Reece with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, which affects 3,000 people 20 years old or younger each year, according to cancer.net. Reece was admitted to UNC Children’s Hospital in Chapel Hill, N.C., where Chad was an assistant for the Tar Heels.
Reece spent seven days in the hospital and underwent chemotherapy treatments for the next 3 ½ years.
“I don’t remember all the details, but I remember going to the hospital and getting blood taken,” Reece said. “It was a little tiring and exhausting, but we got through it.”
The leukemia is in remission, and Reece still goes to yearly checkups in Chapel Hill.
The treatments and side effects affected Reece’s growth and his motor skills early in his life. He was small, not as developed as other kids his age and held back in school for a year.
Reece also dealt with nerve damage in his eyes and couldn’t track moving objects. His father remembers a time he couldn’t play catch with his son, so having him play baseball, where hand-eye coordination essential, was a long shot.
But Reece’s sight gradually improved and he has hit a growth spurt the past two years. The 5-foot-10, 150-pounder has grown eight inches and put on about 50 pounds since being cut from Lexington High's B team as a seventh-grader.
“Weight room has helped a lot, and I matured from when I was cut. It helped my determination to get where I want to be,” Holbrook said.
Being around baseball, and his dad being a college coach, is a plus. He remembers riding with his father, dragging the field at UNC, various trips to Omaha with the Gamecocks and being around the College of Charleston program since his father took the job last year.
Holbrook, a two-year starter, is hitting .307 with seven stolen bases at Hammond, where he and the rest of his family remains despite his dad taking the job at College of Charleston. Reece said they will talk about the family moving to Charleston after the season, but added he is enjoying his time at Hammond, where he also was member of the Skyhawks’ football team.
Perfect Game ranks Holbrook as the 98th-ranked prospect for the Class of 2021. He was the MVP of Perfect Game’s MLK West Championship event in January, where he went 7-for-15 with seven RBIs and five stolen bases.
On March 1, Reece verbally committed to play at North Carolina.
“Always wanted to be at UNC. Once they offered, I knew that is where I wanted to be,” Reece said. “Even at times when I was physically small, I always kept faith that I would be in a good spot and always wanted to go to North Carolina and play where my dad played and coached.”
“Reece feels comfortable there from all he went through. UNC always will be a special place for him,” Chad said of UNC. “He is still growing, but coaches like to coach kids with instinct. He has watched the older guys like Jackie Bradley (South Carolina) and Kyle Seager (UNC), he has taken a lot from them.”
Both Chad and Reece agree there is plenty of room for improvement. Hammond coach Ray Derrick raves about Reece’s work ethic and willingness to get better.
Some nights, Chad said, his son is up late studying the swings of Bryce Harper and Francisco Lindor, Reece’s favorite players.
“We didn’t know if he would see his teenage years, and it has been a true joy,” Chad said. “When I grew up, my dad was a basketball coach, and I wanted to be in the gym. Reece wants to be on the baseball field. His work ethic blows mine away, and he will hit until his hands bleed. That, and his athletic ability, have sold me he has a chance to be good.”