Within a week Veazey was transferred from the hospital near campus to the Shepherd Center, a facility in Atlanta that specializes in rehabilitation from spinal cord injuries. "When I got there I had some resentment," says Veazey. "I was seeing these people in [motorized] wheelchairs, and I had a tough time with it. I felt out of place. Like, I don't belong here. Why am I here?"
He also struggled with dependence. He'd just experienced two months of college life, living with friends and enjoying the autonomy. Suddenly he was surrounded by well-meaning adults—therapists, nurses, his parents. "I felt like a child," he says. "My goal was to get back to college, continue with the life I had led and be my own man again."
That fall, a steady stream of baseball players made the 90-minute drive from Athens to buoy his spirits. At Thanksgiving the Veazeys kept their tradition of eating fried quail and grits. The family was touched when two of Chance's teammates stopped by that day, pitcher Michael Palzone—and Johnathan Taylor.
Veazey gradually grew comfortable with his reality, fixing his gaze on the present and future, not the past. The same sensibilities he brought to bear on the baseball diamond helped immeasurably. "Every time I stepped on the field, I gave baseball everything I had: If I didn't play the game like that, I'd have regrets eating away at me," he says. "Now I had to do the same thing with my life."
By the following fall, Veazey was back on campus, maneuvering a manual wheelchair, "basically doing everything I always did, [other than] playing baseball." He lived in a modified house with his original set of roommates and continued his major in insurance and risk management. Still part of the baseball team, he rarely missed a home game and sometimes joined the team on the road. In fact, Veazey had been there for the 2010 home opener, only four months after his accident. The Red and Black, the student newspaper, ran a color photo of Veazey smiling and leaning forward in his wheelchair on the infield grass. He was slapping five with the starting centerfielder, Zach Cone.
CHANCE VEAZEY was sitting in the Bulldogs' dugout when Cone and Taylor collided. When he saw Taylor motionless on the ground, he had "a bad gut feeling," he recalls. He kept it to himself, but he was right. Taylor was taken by ambulance to St. Mary's Hospital in Athens. Late in the game, Perno got a call telling him that Taylor's neck was broken. The diagnosis was ugly: a C-5 to C-6 complete SCI (spinal cord injury). Though the cord hadn't been severed, Taylor had no feeling below his waist.
Perno, with his tanned leathery skin and straight-shooter demeanor, is a real Baseball Man. He's not ordinarily given to crying. But by the time the game had ended, the coach was in tears. At the moment of impact, Perno had worried about losing the services of two star players. Now he was feeling something else entirely. This was J.T., the kid you couldn't help liking. One story Perno likes to tell: "J.T. came in, and, academically, they were against him because he was a bad test-scorer. I begged the [admissions] committee. I said, 'Give him a chance.' By his second year he was a 3.2 student, and he was telling freshmen, 'You better go to class' and 'You better see your tutors,' policing the academic side." The coach pauses and collects himself. "You just want to be around him."
Most of the team headed to the hospital that night, including Cone, concussion be damned. Taylor's breathing tube had just been removed. He was still drugged up from the surgery to stabilize his spine. But when he saw Cone, he was determined to speak.
"Well, at least I'm not dead," Taylor said.
Cone didn't laugh. Then Taylor too turned serious. He knew how his buddy thought. "This wasn't your fault, Zach," he said. "You just need to keep doing what you're doing. Don't worry about me; I'll be fine. You need to know: You didn't do anything wrong. This is not your issue."