BANGOR — Two health problems haven’t slowed down 15-year-old Kevin Williams of southern New Jersey.
He loves baseball, is a diehard Philadelphia Phillies fan and idolizes perennial All-Star Ryan Howard.
Williams, who plays on South Vineland’s All-Star team, had a stroke when he was 4 years old, and it paralyzed the left side of his body.
But that doesn’t stop him from playing the game he loves, and even though he can only swing a bat with one arm, he has won the hearts of his coaches, teammates and the hundreds of South Vineland fans who have trekked to the Queen City for this week’s Senior League World Series.
“We call him [the] angel of our team, he’s our good luck charm,” manager Abe Heredia said after his team beat Edmonton, Alberta, 10-0 in five innings in its SLWS opener Monday.
“He keeps the guys upbeat, keeps them laughing, he’s just one of the guys.”
When Williams was 9 he encountered his second major health problem. He came down with what his parents thought was the flu and was subsequently taken for a checkup and received bad news.
He was diagnosed with water on his brain, and he had to be airlifted to a hospital in Camden, N.J., to have a shunt inserted into his head to let the excess fluid exit and to relieve pressure on his brain.
He almost died as a result of the condition and spent a month in the hospital, but has remained undeterred in his quest to play baseball.
“Kevin is special to us and the guys are behind him,” Heredia said.
This is Williams’ first trip to Maine, and he said thus far it has been “awesome” and he might even try a little bit of lobster.
Even though he was quiet and shy while speaking to reporters following South Vineland’s game on Monday, Heredia said that is not who he is.
“What you’re seeing here is not the real Kevin. He’s not that quiet,” his manager said.
Williams does have a solid swing — in his Monday plate appearance, he hit a sharp grounder to shortstop and nearly beat out the throw. In South Vineland’s sectional tournament, he came up with a base hit.
When Williams came up to bat Monday, he was greeted with a rousing ovation from the Garden State contingent, and was met by all his teammates upon returning to the dugout.
Williams also played on Heredia’s regular-season Senior League team in South Vineland, and it was Heredia who offered him a spot on the All-Star squad.
“He was so excited, and we were excited to have him on the team,” Heredia said.
Williams’ baseball IQ is also quite impressive.
“He’ll come to me, talk strategy with me,” Heredia said. “He’s one of the boys when he wants to be and he’s a coach when he wants to be. He’s going to be an excellent coach someday.”
Williams, who plays the outfield, fields and throws the ball with one arm, much like former major-league pitcher Jim Abbott, who was born without a right hand.
“We don’t see him any differently. He takes batting practice with us, he does everything everybody else does,” Heredia said.