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Carlson: Tulsa Little League baseballer is the feel-good story we need right now

The Oklahoman logo The Oklahoman 8/13/2022 Jenni Carlson, Oklahoman

Zay Jarvis doesn’t remember making the decision to walk from first base to the pitcher’s mound, break all of baseball’s norms and console, not fight, the pitcher who had just beaned him in the head.

“It wasn’t really a thought,” Zay said. “It was just kind of like a natural reaction.”

Oh, that we would all have natural reactions like his.

On Tuesday, this 12-year-old from Poteau caught the attention of the world. Because what he did happened on a baseball field, some people said it was a great act of sportsmanship, but it was way more than that.

Isaiah Jarvis, right, consoles Kaiden Shelton after being hit by a pitch. © Screenshot Isaiah Jarvis, right, consoles Kaiden Shelton after being hit by a pitch.

It was compassion. Empathy. Kindness. Love.

“Something just kind of clicked that told me to go up there,” said Zay, whose given name is Isaiah but prefers Zay.

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The reaction to his action has been nothing short of amazing. Video of what happened has been viewed over 9 million times on one social media feed. It made headlines in USA Today and the Washington Post and was featured in segments on CNN and The Today Show. It drew comments from Mexico and Canada as well as Venezuela and France. 

It got the attention of several notables on Twitter, too.

Former big leaguer Fred Lynn: “In all my years of playing, I have never seen this display of compassion. Brought tears to my eyes. Isaiah Jarvis, good on you.”

Former TV newsman Dan Rather: “We can learn from the instincts of children. More comfort and empathy.”

Current football analyst Kirk Herbstreit: “Awesome job here.”

But there were some reactions from lesser-known people that were every bit as powerful.

“Is it too soon to declare Isaiah Jarvis my new favorite baseball player?”

“In a world filled with so much hate, be an Isaiah Jarvis.”

“Isaiah Jarvis for president of everything.”

The soon-to-be seventh grader took it all in stride, though his parents were a bit in awe.

“He’s been pretty popular,” dad, Austin, said with a chuckle.

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Zay had no way of knowing any of this would happen Tuesday afternoon. Getting attention, truthfully, was the furthest thing from his mind.

In case you have yet to hear Zay’s story, a quick rewind: he was playing for the Tulsa Nationals Little League team, which was competing as Team Oklahoma in the Little League World Series Southwest Regional. They had advanced to the championship game in Waco, Texas, and if they beat Team Texas East from Pearland, Team Oklahoma would head to the Little League World Series.

Big game.

High stakes.

Texas East scored three runs in the top of the first inning, but Oklahoma rallied in the bottom half of the inning and had narrowed the lead to 3-2 when Zay stepped to the plate. Just a day earlier, he had ended an elimination game with a walk-off run-scoring single, but in his first at-bat since that big hit, he fell behind 0-2.

Zay had his work cut out for him; Texas East pitcher Kaiden Shelton, who his friends call Bubs, is a big, stout, hard-throwing righty.

But on the next pitch, an inside pitch got away from Bubs. It smashed into the earflap of Zay’s helmet, knocking it off his head and knocking him to the ground.

The violence of the collision was stomach-turning.

So was the image of Zay laying on the ground, clutching at his head. Coaches and trainers rushed to him, and over the next few minutes, they assessed him. Was he bleeding? Did he know where he was?

Zay remembers all of it.

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“I was just really scared,” he said. “I got really shook because I’ve never been hit by that speed before, especially in the head.”

No downplaying anything here.

“Yeah, it hurt,” he said.

After several minutes, Zay was helped to his feet. He felt a little dizzy.

“But when I got up, I knew I was gonna be able to play,” he said “I was gonna be OK.”

He made his way to first base and started talking to his coach, but after a moment, Zay looked across the infield to the pitcher’s mound. Bubs’ shoulders were slumped. His head was down. He was crying.

Zay tried to get his attention, hollering his name, but Bubs either didn’t hear him or wouldn’t look at him.

Truth be told, Zay didn’t need Bubs to tell him how he was feeling. They had met at the hotel shared by all the participating teams. Because Texas East and Oklahoma were among the last few teams left in the tournament, the players hung out quite a bit in the days leading up to the championship game.

Zay had gotten to know what a funny, carefree kid Bubs was, so to see him in tears?

“I definitely recognized that he was shook and he was scared for me,” Zay said.

Without thinking, Zay tossed aside his helmet and walked straight toward Bubs. Even when Zay stepped onto the mound, Bubs still didn’t react, but Zay stepped in front of him, put his arms around Bubs and started talking to him.

“I’m all right,” Zay told him.

Right there in front of a packed stadium and a TV audience, he gave Bubs a pep talk.

“Hey, you’re doing great. Take deep breaths. Just think happy thoughts.”

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Bubs told Houston TV station KHOU-TV that he could hardly breathe. Even though his coaches ultimately decided to pull him from the game, Bubs said what Zay did meant a lot.

“If it was anybody else, it would have gone a whole different way,” Bubs told KHOU. “But that kid – he was something different.”

The world recognized as much, too.

By the time the game was over – Texas East won 9-4, by the way – Zay was a viral sensation. Some of his teammates’ siblings mentioned that the video of the whole thing was blowing up, but he didn’t think too much of it.

“OK, a hundred likes or a hundred views,” he thought. “That’s pretty cool.”

More like hundreds of thousands.

Before Zay could even eat a postgame meal, he was doing his first interview about what had happened. Over the next 24 hours, he’d do almost two dozen more. 

What was supposed to be a restful first day back at home was anything but.

“It’s fun,” he said of the interviews. “I like it.”

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Zay, who said he was left with a small bruise on the left side of his face and a few headaches, has quite the what-I-did-over-summer-vacation story. And it's not over yet: according to KRIV-TV in Houston, Little League is flying him to the Little League World Series next week so he can support Texas East and Bubs in their first couple of games.

Zay should return home right about the time school starts. His family recently moved from Tulsa because his dad took an assistant coaching job with the baseball team at Carl Albert State College in Poteau, and Zay will be going to school in nearby Wister.

Safe to say most folks there will know about the new kid when class starts next week.

Zay may play baseball for many more years and never top what he did this week.

“It’s gonna be tough,” he admitted.

But … 

“I’m going to try.”

Zay says when he walked to the pitcher’s mound earlier this week, he just wanted to show God’s love. It’s something he intends to continue no matter what he’s doing, where he is or who is watching. 

Could be no one.

Could be ESPN cameras like there were Tuesday.

“At the end of the day,” Zay said, “it’s just a baseball game.”

Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at 405-475-4125 or jcarlson@oklahoman.com. Like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK, follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok, and support her work and that of other Oklahoman journalists by purchasing a digital subscription today.

This article originally appeared on Oklahoman: Carlson: Tulsa Little League baseballer is the feel-good story we need right now

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