Luke Terry crouches behind home plate each game, full catcher’s gear on as he sticks his left arm out, ready to corral the next pitch.
The baseball comes flying toward him and Terry snags it with his glove, pops the ball up in the air, drops the glove and grabs the ball in midair with his bare left hand, firing it back to the mound or to a base to try to get a runner out.
Terry repeats the same smooth motion, pitch after pitch. It’s a process that took six to seven years to perfect, and he is still trying to make it quicker.
The 15-year-old from Marshall County in Tennessee isn’t trying to be flashy, but instead has built the routine out of necessity. He only has one arm.
“I’ve had a bunch of people reach out and tell me how inspiring it is,” said Terry, who is a ninth grader at Cornersville High and recently saw his story go viral after a video of him playing catcher was posted on Twitter. “I don’t really know how to explain it. It feels good.”
Said Dana Terry, Luke’s mother: “It just makes my heart full every time I watch it, because I’ve seen him play and I’ve seen him grow and how everybody is finally seeing what I have been watching for years.”
When he was 19 months old, Terry had to have his right arm amputated because of an E. coli infection.
Terry had a total of eight surgeries resulting from the infection, and he flat-lined three times, requiring doctors to restart his heart. He went into surgery the first time to relieve the pressure in his arm, but doctors discovered that parts of it were already dead. They had hoped the second surgery was only to remove his hand, saving his arm from the elbow up, but they couldn’t.
“When they went into surgery the second time to amputate it, they could see the infection growing so they were rushing into surgery,” Dana Terry said. “We were running into surgery, and it would have killed him if we didn’t have it.”
After the second surgery, Terry spent 10 days in the intensive care unit before undergoing surgery six more times to get the infection out.
Now Terry is healthy and playing for the varsity baseball team at Cornersville, a small high school in central Tennessee. He is one of three catchers on the team, and when he is not playing catcher, he is in the outfield. But catcher is his favorite position.
“It is one of the most active positions out there,” Terry said. “You get the ball almost every single play.”
Terry also hits, and he has built the strength needed to swing with one arm after his parents and coaches helped him perfect the technique.
The teen started playing baseball when he was 4 years old, taking after both his parents who played sports and his older sister, Morgan. Hanging around the ballpark for days on end, Terry decided he too wanted to join in on the family tradition. Since then, he hasn’t stopped playing.
Terry said that because he grew up with no right arm, life is seemingly normal to him, both at school and in sports. His mother said he has always been accepted into his small community in Tennessee.
“It doesn’t seem to have bothered him. He didn’t make it a big deal,” Dana Terry said. “He would just find a way to do it and he would do it.”
Terry has received recognition before, including being the subject of a story in the Tennessean and being invited to a Baltimore Orioles game as a special guest. But his story went viral again over Easter weekend after the video of him catching during a game was posted on Twitter.
As of Wednesday afternoon, the tweet had been retweeted over 97,000 times and liked by over 283,000 users. The video has over 6.5 million views. It caught the attention of former NFL star Deion Sanders, who tweeted that he wanted to meet Terry and get him some new gear. Former Atlanta Braves great Chipper Jones also took notice, praising Terry and saying he could play on his team anytime.
“It was kind of shocking to know that it went viral,” Terry said. “Everybody was texting me and asking me if I saw the video and I was like, ‘I don’t know what you are talking about.’ Then they finally showed me, and I couldn’t believe it.”
Sanders called Terry on Monday night and asked him what kind of equipment he wanted, how he has been playing baseball for so long and what it meant for the 15-year-old to be an inspiration to others.
“Luke came into the house grinning ear to ear,” Dana Terry said. “You can’t fathom it. It’s like it’s unreal. I grew up watching Deion Sanders play, and now he’s watching my son. It’s awesome.
“It’s gotten to where everyone knows who Luke is.”