For the Love of the Game

Just days after a visit to the hospital, Jorden Aponte took the mound for the Dr. Phillips Little League Junior All-Stars on July 8

DR. PHILLIPS — Every time Jorden Aponte steps on the field, it is a victory.

Although the Dr. Phillips Little League Juniors All-Star Team he plays for went 0-4 during the District 14 tourney last week at Ocoee Little League, the player whom coach Chris Mills refers to as the “special kid with a big heart” has a unique perspective. Jorden, 13, got to play in only two of those four games. Despite being all dressed and ready to go in his All-Stars uniform July 6 — the opening day of the tournament — Jorden and his parents, Nelson and Joanne Aponte, had to spend the night at Arnold Palmer Children’s Hospital instead of the field after he came down with severe stomach pains.

As soon as he felt better and was cleared to go home, though, Jorden had no doubts he would return to the field to help his team. On July 8, he not only took the field but also pitched for Dr. Phillips, and he played again in team’s final game July 11.

More than three-and-one-half years from the December day in 2011 when he was originally diagnosed with desmoplastic small round blue cell tumors — rare, cancerous tumors usually found in the abdominal cavity — this is life for Jorden.

Having had more than 280 tumors removed since his original diagnosis, and in remission for two-and-one-half years now, Jorden knows each day is a gift and each game and practice played, including the ones in years past where he would go straight from a chemotherapy session to the field, is something to be cherished.

“Baseball has been the thing that has just kept him going,” Joanne said. “He’s had this to look forward to. … For Jorden to have been able to be cancer-free and to live his life, it’s just been a gift.”

The Apontes and the Dr. Phillips Little League community that has rallied around Jorden are particularly aware of the need to cherish each day. Although things are going well right now, that could change at any time. DSRBCT is incredibly rare, and doctors have told Joanne and Nelson that the survival rate is about 15%. For him to be doing as well as he has in recent years is a better-than-expected result.

Each day, Jorden has to take medication to keep his intestines running smoothly and antibiotics to compensate for his spleen, which was removed during one of his operations. Like last week, there are setbacks, and it can be frustrating for the local youth who puts in an incredible amount of work so as not to lose ground with his peers on the field.

“It kind of makes me mad, because every time I would proceed in doing good at baseball, I would get another setback,” Jorden said. “But I just kept trying to do my best. … I love the game.”

Bill Reynes, who has coached Jorden since before his diagnoses, said despite of all that has happened, Jorden has continued to improve as a player and always has had a great mind for the game.

“He has always been the smartest kid on the field,” Reynes said. “He’s a well-rounded ballplayer. He’s a good hitter, and you can play him anywhere.”

Jorden, who also enjoys cooking, is looking forward to playing travel ball and gearing up to try and play baseball at the high school level. He is zoned for Olympia High School but is also familiar with Dr. Phillips coach Mike Bradley, who had Jorden throw out the first pitch during a game in 2013 and has been supportive throughout.

The family is unsure as of yet whether Jorden will attend Olympia or opt for the magnet program at Dr. Phillips, acknowledging each situation has positives. If Jorden does go to Olympia — whose varsity team spent the majority of last season as the No. 1 program in the nation — he said he has older friends who, if they make the team, have promised to put in a good word for him.

A wise kid for his age, Jorden is keenly aware of the value of his support system — from his parents and coaches to the Dr. Phillips community to the professional baseball players such as Johnny Damon and Carlos Peña who have offered encouragement.

“It’s all of them; they each do their own part,” Jorden said. “My mom talks me through stuff. My coaches are there for me when I need them on the field. They know my limitations, and they know what I can and can’t do. My teammates encourage me.”

In sports, the idea that someone is “just happy to be there” usually has a somewhat negative connotation — but not so in Jorden’s case. Every time Jorden steps on a ballfield, as he did twice last week, he is just happy to be there. However things progress with travel ball and the possibility of making a team in high school, the one thing that is certain is that he has the right outlook.

“I do each day one day at a time, and I try my best each and every day,” Jorden said. “I don’t look back, I keep moving forward.”

Contact Steven Ryzewski at sryzewski@wotimes.com.

http://www.wotimes.com/2015/07/for-the-love-of-the-game/