When next someone claims that members of Generation Z, aka iGen, are all about instant gratification, share the story of Quinton Graham, 17, Free State High’s senior designated hitter.
Graham’s path to home plate, from which he seared three hits up the middle Tuesday, including a three-run double to spark the Firebirds to a 9-4 victory against visiting Olathe West, could not have been negotiated by someone who needs instant gratification.
He carved that path with relentless perseverance, a burning passion for baseball, and a helping hand from his pal and personal hitting coach: his mother, Mary Ann Graham.
Quinton's coaches suggested to him a few weeks ago that he change his stance. In order to get comfortable with it, he would need more than the allotted time for practice. Never mind that sleet fell — modern weather forecasters prefer to call it “a wintry mix” — Quinton and his mom headed to the Free State diamond on a Saturday for a couple of hours of batting practice.
A single parent, Mary Ann threw to him, standing behind an L-screen, and collected the balls to throw some more. It was two hours well-spent. Graham’s 3-for-3 day with 3 RBI came in his second varsity start. He played on the C team his first two seasons and the JV squad last year.
“I feel like I’m a better hitter this year than I’ve ever been any other year,” Graham said.
And to what does he attribute that?
“My mom,” Graham said.
Nobody knows better than her what long odds Quinton Graham overcome to produce his perfect day at the plate.
When her son was 6 months old, Mary Ann noticed he had tremors and took him to the doctor.
“They told me they thought he had cerebral palsy and would be in a wheelchair,” she said. “He was about a year-and-a-half behind walking. Then, he wasn’t talking and they told me they thought he had autism.”
From a very young age, she saw to it that her son received all the physical therapy (starting at six months), occupational therapy, speech therapy (through the age of 13) and special help in the classroom that he needed.
A National Honor Society student, Quinton throws left because his right side “was really weak initially,” his mother said, and he bats right, a fairly rare combination in baseball. Fine motor issues make it difficult for him to write, so he takes notes on a laptop.
“His muscles didn’t work right and when he’d go try out for a baseball team, they would think, 'OK, this kid is really uncoordinated,’" Mary Ann said.
Nobody says that anymore.
Graham’s third-inning bases-clearing double deep to the gap in left-center tied the game after Free State had fallen behind, 3-0, in the top of the inning, and the Firebirds had a 7-3 lead by the end of the third after sending 11 batters to the plate. Center fielder Jaxson Webb and shortstop Jake Rittman, both of whom looked oh-so-smooth in the field, lashed two-run doubles in the inning.
Left-hander Ethan Bradford (nine strikeouts in six innings) and second baseman Colter Maldonado also had memorable performances, Maldonado’s on a web gem. He dove to his right to stop a fast-moving grounder and bounced off the ground quickly enough to throw the runner out for the first out of the fourth.
Free State (9-5), which did not have any pitchers and just two position players back from last season’s senior-laden team, pushed its winning streak to four games.
It was all-grit, no-quit Graham who put the biggest smile on coach Mike Hill’s face.
"Relentless worker," Hill said. "And he’s such a quality person, just a great kid.”
Hill said he never has let Graham know that he has spotted him working with his mother on the Free State field “many times,” taking grounders and batting practice.
“And our infield coach better watch out because his mom hits a better fungo than he does,” Hill said.
FREE STATE 9, OLATHE WEST 4
Olathe West 003 000 1 – 4 5 1
Free State 016 000 x – 9 7 3
W – Ethan Bradford.
2B – Bryan Bartels, Olathe West, Quinton Graham, Jake Rittman, Free State. 3B — Jaxson Webb, Free State.
Free State highlights – Graham 3 for 3, 3 RBI; Camden Carlin single, RBI, two walks, two runs; Rittman 2 for 4, 2 RBI; Bradford 9K.