ECU's Parker Byrd becomes 1st D-I player w/ prosthesis, seeks 'to share His light'

College sports history was made Friday night in Greenville, North Carolina, in the eighth inning of the No. 11 East Carolina baseball team’s 16-2 season-opening victory against Rider.

Parker Byrd, a redshirt freshman for the Pirates who had part of his right leg amputated after a boating accident in 2022, stepped to the plate as a pinch hitter. The momentous occasion was not only Byrd’s first career at-bat, but it marked the first time a Division-I baseball player has ever competed on a prosthetic leg.

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Byrd ultimately drew a five-pitch walk during the at-bat and was subsequently replaced by a pinch runner. On his way back to the dugout, he received his second standing ovation from an opening-day record crowd (5,221) at Clark-LeClair Stadium.

“Chill bumps, man, it’s absolutely phenomenal,” Byrd said on the field following the victory. “This crowd, these fans, these people, my family, my teammates, coaches, I really cannot be more thankful and blessed to be in the opportunity I am today. People believing in me, it’s unreal. I really can’t put it into words.”

He had the rest of the weekend off as ECU went on to sweep the three-game series with a pair of 7-0 victories on Saturday and Sunday. Still, Byrd was the talk of the weekend. ECU head coach Cliff Godwin revealed in an interview after the sweep that each Pirate player has a patch on the side of their caps honoring Byrd.

“It’s the Parker Byrd patch,” Godwin said. “We have it on our hats because what that guy’s doing for a lot of people — the inspiration, the tenacity he shows up with every single day — is obviously very special.”

Byrd — a Laurinburg, North Carolina, native — dreamed of one day playing baseball in the purple and gold. It seemed to be coming to pass, as he committed to the Pirates during his freshman year at Scotland County High School. Yet on July 23, 2022, while enjoying the summer after high school graduation and preparing to enroll at ECU, his plans came screeching to a halt.

On that fateful day, Byrd and his friends had taken a boat out on Bath Creek in North Carolina. A normal day of leisure quickly turned to panic when Byrd and one of his friends were thrown off an inner tube being pulled behind the boat, and Byrd got tangled in the rope that connected the inner tube to the boat. The rope then caught in the propeller, which began pulling Byrd toward the boat, and soon, into the spinning blades.

“I remember the whole thing,” Byrd told the Washington Daily News last March. “The pain hit me in the ambulance, but I felt God’s presence and I somehow knew it wasn’t my time just yet.”

Doctors worked tirelessly to save his leg, yet after 22 surgeries in 45 days, it was clear that amputation just below the knee was the only option. Such news would bring many athletes to despair, but not Byrd. He had an unquenchable peace that surpassed all understanding.

“[God] is the reason I am here today,” Byrd told Sports Spectrum last year. “God definitely chooses people to shine His light through, and I am honored that I get the chance to share His light.”

A prayer vigil in his honor resulted in several people coming to faith, and Byrd realized acutely that God was at work in his injury. He knew that trying to return to the field with his prosthesis would require determination, perseverance and countless hours of rehab. At the same time, he knew he had a platform to leverage for God’s glory.

Byrd missed all of last season recovering, yet always with his sights set on 2024. Godwin, himself a follower of Christ, stayed faithful to his commitment to Byrd and allowed him to stay on a scholarship.

“I hit almost every day and do strength and rehab workouts sometimes twice a day,” Byrd told the Washington Daily News. “… It’s a step-by-step process, but I’ve come a long way. My family, coaches and teammates have played a huge role in my recovery by supporting me every step of the way. God let me live for a reason and it’s my responsibility to show His light to others.”


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Byrd’s faith and infectious positivity from the sidelines helped spur the Pirates on to a successful 2023 season; they finished 47-19 before bowing out in the NCAA Tournament’s Charlottesville Regional.

Now, with Byrd able to be an inspiration not just from the dugout but from the field itself, hopes are again high in Greenville. He and his teammates are dreaming of making the program’s first-ever College World Series appearance.

The No. 11 Pirates will go for their fourth straight win to begin the season when they travel to take on Campbell (2-1) on Tuesday at 5 p.m. ET.

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