When members of the Riverdale Baptist High School baseball program gripe about having a rough day, all it takes is a look toward team manager Richard Gaither to silence those thoughts.
Gaither rarely missed a practice or a game this spring, even when the Crusaders traveled to face opponents from outside Price George’s County. At some point during most practices, he would get his glove, head to centerfield and field a few fly balls. He said he does all that to prepare for his ultimate goal of playing in a real game.
Many freshmen arrive at Riverdale Baptist with similar goals, but Gaither is not the typical rookie. Last month, he underwent his fifth operation at Children’s Hospital to remove a recurring and malignant brain tumor just above his right ear. It has been diagnosed by doctors at Johns Hopkins University as a Grade 3 ganglioglioma.
“You know, it’s something that I’ve grown to live with,” Gaither said. “I know what to expect every time. I’m not afraid of the operations. I know that I have to get them. Hopefully, one day they’ll tell me I won’t need another one.”
Gaither had his first tumor removed — all in basically the same location — when he was only 2. At the time, his parents, Richard and Joy Gaither, thought that might be the last one we would need. But Gaither has gone back four more times at age 7, 11, 15 and 16. Each time the doctors have not only removed the tumor, about the diamater as a dime, but also a small portion of his brain surrounding the tumor.
“The thinking is that is they cut away a small part of the brain around the tumor, then maybe the tumor won’t grow back,” the father said. “This last one was very small. He’s right-handed, so when they cut away little pieces of his brain on that side it doesn’t affect his speech or his motor skills. He still has to go back for chemotherapy. But so far everything is pretty much normal.”
He has become a fixture in the Crusaders’ dugout. Gaither, who hopes to be officially added to the roster next season, simply dreams of someday taking the field, perhaps even for the top of the seventh inning of a home game.
“I can’t wait to put on a jersey and run out onto the field for a real game,” Gaither said. “I don’t have any problem catching fly balls in practice. I feel a little awkward going back on fly balls, but ones hit in front of me or to the side I know I can catch. I just can’t wait to do that in a real game.”
Riverdale Baptist coach Terry Terrill eclipsed the 1,000-win mark this spring and sometime in the near future his son, Ryan Terrill, a former player and current assistant coach, should take over the program. The younger Terrill has grown fond of Gaither and hopes to be able to get him into a game next spring.
“If he’s cleared to play next spring and it’s OK with his parents, then I’ll put him in the outfield,” Ryan Terrill said. “He loves catching fly balls in practice. He catches everything we send his way. He reminds all of us how easy we have it. Sometimes you might think like you’re having a rough day because you’re sore or sick and then you look over at Richard and realize what he’s been through and then you realize you’ve got nothing to complain about.”