Stoney Rhodes frequently retreated to the batting cage in his backyard after Tivy baseball games this season, searching for a solution to his predicament.
The 2019 Tivy baseball season often demoralized the Antlers’ second baseman, who began his junior year in a prolonged slump, mustering just one hit in his first 28 at-bats. It was Rhodes’ first dry spell at the plate in his baseball career, so he didn’t really know what to do, other than to take hacks in his batting cage for several hours at night, hoping it would lead to better results in games.
“It was really frustrating,” Rhodes said. “I just kept working at it. … I knew God had a plan for me, and that it was all going to work out eventually.”
That’s how he’s operated his entire life: Relying on his faith to power through difficult situations. Rhodes was born with clubfoot, a birth defect that caused his right foot to be rotated inward and downward. This resulted in muscle atrophy in his right leg. To this day, he wears size 11 for his left foot and a size 8 for his right, and slightly limps when he runs.
Still, the disability didn’t stop him from earning a starting job in one of the best baseball programs in the region. And it also didn’t prevent him from hurdling another obstacle: snapping out of his season-long slump. After hitting .153 in the regular season, Rhodes has selected the perfect time to produce at the plate, hitting .350 in 10 postseason games with two extra-base hits. In that same span, he has also collected every ground ball that has traveled in his direction, posting a perfect fielding percentage in the playoffs. His performance this postseason has propelled the Antlers (29-11) to their third-consecutive regional semifinals, where they will begin a three-game series with Sharyland on Friday at Riverside Park in Victoria.
“He’s been pivotal for us in the playoffs,” Tivy coach Chris Russ said of Rhodes. “He’s been a good No. 9 hitter for us. He has had some walks, good at-bats, and has been seeing pitches well. He really has come through for us lately.
“For having clubfoot, he moves really well. On defense, he makes a lot of great plays, getting to balls and making off-balance throws. To overcome that and make the plays that he has made this season is really special.”
Rhodes has formed a habit of making difficult defensive plays appear routine. Don’t be fooled; it’s a result of countless hours of physical therapy during his early years, and even more hours practicing baseball with Kerrville Indians coach Freddie Russ when he was older.
He was born with his right foot rotated at a near 90-degree angle. To correct the issue, he underwent six surgeries, and his mother, Tracy Rhodes, quit her office manager position at Rhodes Construction to drive Stoney to San Antonio five days a week for physical therapy treatments until he was 3 years old. At nights, a machine rotated his feet while he slept.
But Stoney decided at an early age he was going to have a positive outlook on his disability. When he was younger, he was admitted to the Texas Scottish Rite Hospital for Children as a case study. There, he witnessed other children with severe health issues. It made him realize that his own condition wasn’t that bad. Sure, his parents had to spend more money on shoes. And sure, he sometimes wore shorts during Texas summers because he didn’t want strangers to notice t his right leg was smaller than his left. But other than that, he could operate like a normal human; he could even play sports. He also learned that Troy Aikman and Mia Hamm were a few of the world-class athletes who were born with clubfoot. That, too, was encouraging.
“He’s lucky to be able to walk normal, much less play sports at the level he plays at,” said Rocky Rhodes, Stoney’s father. “He just has to work harder, but he understands that and puts in the extra time.”
When he started playing baseball as a 7-year-old, he often left practice in severe pain. That didn’t stop him from falling in love with the sport. His parents just simply tried different methods to diminish the discomfort. He underwent his last surgery when he was in the seventh grade, because his right leg rubbed against the back of his left leg, causing him to trip. Four years after that operation, he became a starter on Tivy’s baseball team and returned kickoffs on Tivy’s varsity football team last fall.
He’s been through a lot,” said Rocky Rhodes, Stoney’s father. “That made him tough.”
It also prepared him for the trials he faced this season. He entered 2019 with high expectations. He had a great summer season with his select travel team, the Kerrville Indians. His former teammate, Lance Ford, who’s now the starting second baseman at Texas, gave Stoney his “TFND” baseball socks, which he considered to be tokens of good luck. Moreover, Stoney performed well during Tivy’s preseason scrimmages, going 8-for-13 at the plate. All the ingredients were there for a great season.
Which, of course, made his struggles early in the season all the more frustrating. At times, he felt like he wasn’t contributing. That’s what really made him sad.
Fortunately for him, he had a strong support system. Russ gave him tips to improve his batting stance. His dad urged him to continue trusting in God’s plan, reminding him that’s what helped him navigate past obstacles. His mother also provided emotional support, but admitted it was difficult watching her son exhaust himself every night in the backyard batting cage without yielding any results during games.
“As a mom, I have been more sensitive to all of that,” Tracy said. “To watch him struggle through those things was hard for me. then he would tell me, ‘Mom, remember God’s plan isn’t your plan. I am just supposed to work through it.’”
And everything ultimately worked out for Stoney, just in time for the playoffs to begin. During Game 3 against Austin LBJ in the bi-district round, the Jaguars’ pitcher, Christian Stromberger, fed Stoney an outside fastball at the edge of the plate. Stoney smoked the offering to deep centerfield for a triple to lead off the sixth. Colten Drake followed by cranking a double to right field to seal Tivy’s 12-2 run-rule victory.
In her own words, Tracy began hollering like “a crazy person” in the stands She knew what her son had overcome to reach this point, and was also aware of how much his early-season struggles affected him. To watch him be rewarded for his perseverance moved her to tears.
Stoney has continued to provide special moments for Tivy fans this postseason. In another Game 3, this time against Dripping Springs in the regional quarterfinals, he smacked a single up the middle in the bottom of the sixth to score Cooper Duennenberg, part of a three-run, sixth-inning blitz that helped the Antlers bury the Tigers, 5-0.
He’s hoping to generate several more big hits this weekend.
“Just seeing him accomplish the things we knew he had in him, that’s what excites me,” Tracy said. “That’s what makes me so emotional. … He feels pretty positive (about this weekend.)”