E.A. Sports Today

Mitch’s catching on

Alexandria eighth-grade catcher Welch shows his toughness playing a tough position in a tough situation

Alexandria catcher Mitch Welch looks back across the field after handling Cody Dodd's series-clinching victory last weekend. Below, catching cousins Millie Burt (L) and Mitch Welch on a day the Cubs' softball and baseball teams played.

Alexandria catcher Mitch Welch looks back across the field after handling Cody Dodd’s series-clinching victory last weekend. Below, catching cousins Millie Burt (L) and Mitch Welch on a day the Cubs’ softball and baseball teams played.

By Al Muskewitz
East Alabama Sports Today

Even the most casual of sports fans know about Lou Gehrig’s “Luckiest Man” speech. Alexandria catcher Mitch Welch feels much the same way as the former Yankees great did that day every time he steps on the baseball field.

It’s on the field where he’s happiest. He gets to play the sport he absolutely loves and doing it against some pretty tough odds. He’s an eighth-grader handling one of the most veteran pitching staffs in the county about to face a big battle off the field.

Next month, Welch will undergo two surgeries to remove a sausage-shaped tumor on his brain. For now, however, all he’s concerned with is helping the Valley Cubs find a way to get past top-ranked Russellville in their Class 5A quarterfinals series that starts Friday night.

“I want to help any way I can with the team,” he said. “It’s just a great game to play. Baseball is life.”

The game of life threw Welch a curve last fall when doctors discovered a tumor on the left side of his brain, the side that controls right-side body function and memory.

At the time he was playing on the Cubs’ football team as a middle linebacker, defensive tackle and left guard. When doctors discovered the growth they said sports were out, but the family convinced them not to deny their son his baseball, assuring them he was fully protected when he took the field.

At first, Cubs coach Andy Shaw was reluctant to let him play, but he came around when the family gave him their approval.

“I’m glad he got to play,” Mitch’s dad Bobby said. “I’m just thankful to Coach Shaw for letting him play. Coach Shaw has been very understanding of his situation.”

Welch wants no special treatment because of his condition and he gets none. He remains one of the guys to his teammates and the players know they must earn their spot in the lineup under Shaw, who won’t hesitate to play an underclassman if he has a better chance of getting the job done.
He was thrown into the mix because Jacob Heathcock wasn’t an option behind the plate after injuring his knee in football season. He splits time with C.J. Howell and has proven to be a reliable receiver despite his youth. Shaw projects if Welch will become an “outstanding” catcher if he continues to work hard.

And apparently catching runs in the family. His cousin, Millie Burt, catches for the Cubs’ regional-bound softball team.

“He’s just done an excellent job for us, overcoming all the obstacles he’s got,” Shaw said. “He’s a tough kid and he wants to be good for Alexandria; that means a lot. He’s trying hard and we just try to work with him the best we can. I know it’s a tough situation, but he’s really done a great job for us.”

Welch already has played in some big games this season. He caught the championship game of the Calhoun County Tournament, the first and third games of the opening playoff series with Moody and ace Cody Dodd’s series-clinching gem against Mortimer Jordan.

“He’s got one of the biggest hearts I’ve ever seen,” Dodd said. “He’ll put everything on the line, do whatever he has to do; that’s what I love about him. He handles things very well; better than a lot of catchers.”

Everyone who knows Mitch will tell you this story isn’t over. The next chapter is when he comes back from the surgery and returns to his favorite field of play.

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