As doctors wheeled 15-year-old Kodee Bennett into emergency brain surgery Friday night, his mother, Mindy Mordhorst, feared she might never see him alive again.
But after successful surgery and a recovery that progressed so quickly it stunned even his neurosurgeon, the Payette High freshman returned home Monday afternoon. And word quickly spread around Payette that he plans to attend the Pirates’ first district tournament game Tuesday.
“Nobody can believe that he’s alive, let alone doing the things that he’s doing,” Mordhorst said.
The Pirates’ starting second baseman fractured the right side of his skull during a freak accident at practice Friday morning. He sprinted back for a pop fly into shallow right field and dove head first for the ball, hitting his head against the knee of a charging teammate.
“It sounded like a ball hitting a wood bat,” Payette senior catcher Austin Stricker said. “It was pretty gnarly.”
The impact shattered his skull with so much force that it punctured the membrane surrounding his brain and caused it to start bleeding. After an air ambulance flight to Saint Alphonsus Regional Medical Center in Boise, he underwent three hours of surgery to repair the damage and to have a metal plate inserted into his skull.
Stricker said the Pirates braced themselves for Bennett to need weeks of recovery in the intensive care unit. But by Saturday morning, Bennett was awake, alert and speaking.
“For him to just wake up and say he’s ready to hit the diamond ... were probably the most beautiful words we’ll ever hear in our lives,” Mordhorst said.
The Pirates immediately ended their Saturday morning practice when they learned Bennett wanted to see his teammates, piling into vans to make the trek to Boise and return his glove, which they all autographed.
“It was amazing the fact he was even up and out of ICU because he was supposed to be in there for two weeks,” senior shortstop Bryant Gerdes said. “We told him we all have his back, and he just told us he wants to be out of there and back on the diamond.”
Bennett continued to amaze over the weekend, beating every timetable set by his doctors to the point they discharged him from Saint Alphonsus on Monday afternoon. Mordhorst said Bennett can walk, talk and move around freely, but he won't return to the field this spring or summer. He still tires easily and has some paralysis on the left side of his face, which can cause his speech to slur. But she said he’s improving daily and they won’t know how much brain damage is permanent until he heals more.
“He feeds himself, he’s doing everything,” she said. “He’s doing phenomenal. In fact, he tried to run to get a Kit Kat yesterday.”
Since the accident, the Pirates have vowed to dedicate their postseason run to Bennett. They had his number printed on the back of their undershirts and wrote his initials and number on their hats and gloves. The team has also set up a GoFundMe page to help pay for his medical costs.
“Everything we do is for Kodee because he wants us to go hard,” Gerdes said. “Talking to him, that’s all he wants. So we’re going to bring him a district championship.”
Bennett’s injury came in the midst of a historic season for Payette. The Pirates won the 3A Snake River Valley regular-season title, going undefeated against their conference opponents. They enter the district tournament as the top seed at 20-2 with their only losses coming to 5A programs in Nampa and Meridian.
Payette opens the tournament against 12-time defending district champ Fruitland (7-16) at 6 p.m. Tuesday at Weiser. A win Tuesday places the Pirates in the district championship Wednesday.
Bennett will be there, sitting behind home plate to support his team. Mordhurst knew she couldn’t keep him away from the field. But she vows to keep him out of the dugout.
“If that means his dad has to put handcuffs on him,” she said, “that’s what we’ll do.”