HARPER WOODS, MI — He rides in on his own on a motorized wheelchair, gets plopped down in the front row of the bleachers and turns the baseball field into his own sanctuary.
Joking, laughing and touching those around him, 8-year-old Reggie Livingston brings the game to life before it even begins. And he’s turned cheering on the Grosse Pointe Farms City Little League all-star team this summer into a job.
“We tell him the players’ names and he says, ‘Yeah, cheer for No. 14 … or whoever,'” said 13-year-old Carter Sales, a member of the Farms City 11-12 year-old all-star team last year. “He brings the game alive, and whenever he’s here the team goes crazy.”
Livingston lives in Grosse Pointe now with his adopted family, but life these days is much different than what could have been.
Born in Haiti with water on his brain and cerebral palsy, Livingston came to the United States when he was nine months old to seek better medical care. His head was growing — the result of hydrocephalus — and the time to correct it was growing short.
“He’s had five brain surgeries and tons of leg surgeries, and the doctors said he would never walk or talk,” said Jane Livingston, his adopted mother. “Now he’s talking up a storm. He’s not able to walk on his own, but he’s starting to.”
Jane and her husband, Pete, became Reggie’s adoptive parents when he was eight months old as treatment was sought for him in the U.S. By 16 months old, he returned to Haiti with the hope that he could be well enough to live with his biological parents.
But quality medical facilities proved few and far between and his head continued growing. He was sent back to the states soon after and has lived ever since with the Livingstons, who already have four kids ages 22 to 17.
The Grosse Pointe Little League team’s biggest fan The Grosse Pointe Little League team’s biggest fan
“If he had been here, there wouldn’t have been any issues,” Jane said. “Now (his head is) closer to normal size; it will always be big because the bones have grown.”
Jane says baseball has since consumed Reggie’s life. He can’t walk but insisted on playing Little League in Grosse Pointe the last two seasons. The league made concessions for him to play but repeated injuries — playing in a wheelchair can be tough, as you might imagine — cut his playing days short.
He spent this summer as the manager of team in the Grosse Pointe Little League, just so he can still spend time around the game.
“We can’t pass a field without stopping because there’s a game,” Jane said. “Even the other day, we had tickets to the Tigers game and we’re driving to the Tigers game and he saw there was a game and he said, ‘This will do.’
“I said, ‘What do you mean, this will do?'”
Reggie has a knack for making his voice heard, either through rally cries or nicknames he has for certain friends and family.
There’s “Davey Doe,” “The Girlfriend” and “Pizza Face,” and he refers to Will White, on the Grosse Pointe Farms City all-star team, as Miguel Cabrera because he wears No. 24.
“My friends will hang out with him at recess and he ends up giving them nicknames,” said Annie Davey, 11, who attended school with him at Richard Elementary. “It would make us laugh because he’s just funny.”
Reggie’s taken a certain liking to Farms City centerfielder Larry Kania, who lives down the street from the Livingstons. He jokingly referred to him as his brother on Saturday during the team’s 12-0 win over Portage Lake.
“He’s funny,” Kania said. “He cracks a lot of jokes at practices he comes to. He watches; he likes me a lot.
“Like last game, we had a little pep talk with him. And he calls us by different baseball players in the MLB.”
Jane says Reggie wakes up at 7 a.m. every morning, hops on to the MLB website and watches highlights from as many games as he can. He knows what number every member of the Detroit Tigers wears and he knows more baseball facts than the average 8-year-old, she said.
“His favorite thing is to announce,” Jane said. “He’s a future announcer; that’s what he wants to do. Even at home, while he’s watching the iPad, even the neighbors hear him shouting every morning.”
Reggie and Jane were in attendance at Farm City’s first two games in the Michigan state Little League major all-star tournament and Reggie says he plans to be on hand again Monday when Farms City goes for a 3-0 start against Roosevelt Park at 9:30 a.m. at Harper Woods Middle/High School.
The team has made sure to accommodate him, allowing access to its dugout during games and inviting him onto the field after. Following Farms City’s win over Portage Lake on Saturday, he joined the team in the handshake line where each player and coach from both teams took the time to acknowledge him.
“He loves his independence now,” Jane Livingston said. “That’s why I stand back. Forever, I would have to carry him and stay by his side. Now he’s able to sit on his own and be with the kids and be part of the group, which is fun.”
Life has improved, too. He’s been surgery-free for the last two years and doctors are monitoring him to, hopefully, build him hip sockets in the next year or two.
“Reggie’s a great kid and it’s fun to see him at our games,” said Art McWood, Farms City’s manager. “He’s an inspiration. These kids, they realize when they see Reggie and the positive attitude he’s got, they see how fortunate they are.”
— Aaron McMann covers sports for MLive.com. Contact him: firstname.lastname@example.org; follow him on Twitter @AaronMcMann.