West Ashley baseball player doesnt let radial nerve palsy affect his career
Matthew Cooper makes it look easy as he patrols left field for the West Ashley High Wildcats.
He tracks down a fly ball and catches it in his gloved left hand. He then tucks his glove under his right arm, takes the ball with his left hand and throws a strike with his left hand to keep a runner from scoring.
Matthew Cooper was born to play baseball.
He was also born with radial nerve palsy, damage to the nerve that controls many wrist and hand functions.
But in the outfield, he makes it look so natural.
“He runs so well,” West Ashley baseball coach Mitch Miggenburg said. “He has good instincts for the game. He went to a tryout camp at a college and his time for fielding the ball and throwing it was just about the same as everyone else’s. He’s learned to play with it, and he plays well.”
Cooper’s father, Gary, said there was no doubt that his would play baseball.
“He’s loved the game ever since he was born,” Mr. Cooper said. “Matthew’s always loved baseball. When he was 3, he wanted to play so badly that he cried when he watched his older brother play. We had to sneak him on the team. That’s how much we wanted to play. Matthew always wanted to play baseball and we knew he would. He would just play it a little different than others.”
He underwent surgery when he was 3, and the procedure helped movement in his thumb and forefinger. But he still didn’t have full use of his right hand.
But it didn’t stop him. He played on a Dixie League all-star team and played travel ball with the Charleston Braves and Charleston Storm. When he arrived at the high school level, he was a little different but much better than most players.
He’s batting over .300 his senior season and has a scholarship to play at North Greenville next year.
“I’ve always told myself that hard work would get me where I wanted to be,” Matthew Cooper said.
“I never thought I was different. I just catch the baseball and throw it different than most players. When I first started playing, some of my teammates asked me why I caught and threw the ball like I did. They said no one ever did that.”
Miggenburg says Cooper is a great kid.
“He works hard and is a leader,” the coach said. “He works hard in the classroom, too. He’s one of those kids you just love to coach.”
Said Cooper’s father, Gary: “The thing I’m most proud of is that he’s a good kid. He doesn’t get in trouble and is a good student too. There comes a time in life when you have to put baseball behind you. The work habits he’s developed on the field will help him in the game of life.”
That’s not idle chatter. The younger Cooper’s work ethic has carried over into the academic arena.
He was ranked No. 10 in his class of 409 with a 4.39 GPA. He plans to focus on elementary education and hopes to work with children with special needs.
“I’ve always wanted to be a teacher,” Cooper said.
And by watching Cooper, just about everyone’s learned a lesson: Just because you are a little different doesn’t mean you can’t dream big.
Follow Phil Bowman on Twitter: @pandcphil