After an incredibly successful junior season, Craig Mitchell couldn't understand what was going wrong. According to the News & Observer, just weeks into his summer season, Mitchell couldn't field fly balls. He couldn't even pick up a ground ball without intense dizziness.
As soon as he went to a doctor, he knew what was wrong: He had brain cancer.
Incredibly, less than a year later, the Fuquay-Varina pitcher found his way back on the mound for a powerhouse North Carolina baseball program. The road back required a marathon surgery, enormous family and community support and, when he was finally ready to return, a special call-up from the school's junior varsity team.
"When I saw the MRI images, the tumor was huge," Fuquay-Varina baseball coach Milton Senter told the News & Observer. "... I was stunned."
Luckily for Mitchell, the form of cancer he acquired was an acoustic neuroma, a benign growth that would not spread to other parts of his body. While the cancer should not have spread, the removal of Mitchell's tumor still required an extraordinary surgery of 19 hours, forcing doctors to take revolving shifts during the intense, intra-skull procedure.
While the operation was deemed a complete success, it also left Mitchell deaf in his left ear, just one part of the bad news he was told when he woke up after the procedure: He was also told he wouldn't play baseball in his final high school season.
Amazingly, Mitchell refused to surrender his dream of playing high school baseball again, and worked up enough strength to throw a baseball less than two months after his surgery. A month later, Senter told him the senior that he hoped to pitch him in a relief outing in the coming weeks.
That outing came on March 9, with a notable addendum: The first catcher to receive Mitchell in a game would be his younger brother, Brian Mitchell, who had spent the rest of the season as part of the Fuquay-Varina junior varsity squad.
Two innings later, Mitchell was officially back with a hold to his name, and a reason for he and his teammates to celebrate. A month later, and Mitchell earned a win in the team's senior night game, a conclusion to a high school career which could only be considered perfectly fitting.
"He not only came back to us, he performed," Senter told the News & Observer. "He went out there and battled. That's a lesson to us all.
"He was going to be a part of the team whether he played or not. We didn't want to be greedy. We just wanted him back. Having him play is just a bonus."