As Vanderbilt sealed its college baseball national championship title with an 8-2 win over Michigan on Wednesday night, the usual celebrations sprung to life: group hugs, confetti and cameramen circling the field, capturing it all. As the celebration carried into the locker room, sophomore relief pitcher Tyler Brown sat at the end of the locker room bench, watching.
He was thrilled, of course, but he was also reflecting on news far more exciting than even a national championship. Earlier in the College World Series, doctors determined his 1-year-old daughter, Isabella, would not need another heart surgery.
Isabella was born with Down syndrome and a life-threatening heart condition called Tetralogy of Fallot, a condition that limits oxygen because of holes in the heart. Her heart temporarily stopped during her first heart surgery at 5 months old, and six months later she was taken on a life-flight helicopter with respiratory syncytial virus, pneumonia, bronchiolitis and a collapsed lung. The holes in Isabella’s heart had quadrupled in size.
But it turns out her most recent surgery was more successful than doctors had even hoped, and Isabella won’t need another operation until her late teens.
“We just got word that she’s not going to have surgery again for a long time,” Brown told the Tennessean after the CWS win. “She’s doing so good. It was really inspiring. A lot of light came through.”
Isabella’s story, which was shared numerous times on TV throughout the College World Series, caught the attention of Bret Michaels, the rock band Poison’s lead singer, who pledged to donate $10,000 to a charity of Brown’s choosing:
#Vanderbilt – you rocked & on behalf of my Life Rocks Fndn. & your @VandyBoys team, your ability to stay focused & finish w/ #CWS @ESPN win. I’m offering a $10,000 donation to a charity of @TbTy10’s choice in his daughter's name living with down syndrome. You are #Unbroken!🤘🏻⚾️
— Bret Michaels (@bretmichaels) June 27, 2019
The news about Isabella, and Michaels’ donation, is just the latest development in the remarkable, tragic, and ultimately redemptive story of Brown’s life. He watched his parents divorce and his mom die of cancer, saw his close friend die of a seizure at 17, and needed Tommy John surgery after blowing out his arm in high school. At 16, Brown was adopted by Brandon and Koren Oswalt. Brandon was one of Brown’s summer baseball coaches, had lived a similar life and could relate. The two would often go fishing together, where they would pray and discuss life.
“Brandon just came into my life,” Brown told the Tennessean last month. “God was present when we met. … I can sit here today and tell you that I don’t deserve all the ways that God has blessed me.”
During a hunting trip last year, Oswalt told Brown about a dream he’d been having, one in which Brown was winning games in the College World Series. “I told him, ‘I just know this is your year,'” Oswalt told the Tennessean.
“I think we were both having that dream, and I never doubted it,” Brown said. “We believe that’s the Holy Spirit living in both of us. God was telling us that something good was going to happen no matter what we’re dealing with in life.”
Brown thrived in his second season at Vanderbilt, compiling a 2.19 ERA over 31 appearances, and racking up a Vanderbilt single-season record of 17 saves — three of which came in the College World Series. Brown closed out four of the Commodores’ five wins in Omaha, never allowing an earned run.
And the win caps a remarkable season that saw Vanderbilt (59-12) sweep the Southeastern Conference regular-season and tournament titles, set the league record for wins (23), lose back-to-back games only twice, and have 13 players selected in the MLB draft.
Michigan’s loss, meanwhile, ended a remarkable postseason run. The Wolverines went from one of the last four squads picked for the 64-team NCAA tournament to becoming the first Big Ten representative to play in the CWS Finals since Ohio State in 1966.
— Life’s trials have helped Vanderbilt’s Tyler Brown become one of NCAA’s top pitchers
— Albert Pujols pens beautiful letter to daughter with Down syndrome
— Yankees’ draft pick Gerrit van Zijll from Lyme disease to pro baseball: ‘God is full of miracles’