KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- So often sports figures are the source of inspiration. And inspiration came from Kauffman Stadium during the Royals’ baseball game Saturday night.
This time, the swelling motivation came from the man who threw the first pitch, not a player.
Independence Police Officer Tom Wagstaff was shot in the head while responding to a burglary call last March. Saturday, the 15-year veteran of the police department entered Kauffman stadium in a wheelchair.
“It was amazing, amazing,” he described the cheers from the crowd as his wife and two sons pushed him toward the pitcher’s mound before the game.
Wagstaff’s recovery has been long and hard. He spent nearly eight months at a facility in Nebraska.
He returned to a hero’s welcome in Independence last December.
“I practiced all week on it, actually the past couple of weeks on it,” he admitted to preparing for the first pitch.
But nerves still overcame him. On the way to the mound, his wife reminded him to breathe. Wagstaff let out a deep exhalation.
The crowd cheered when it saw Wagstaff. Next, he did what the thousands wanted to see. Wagstaff grabbed the handles of a walker, counted to three, and stood from his wheelchair. Cheers and applause filled the stadium.
“I'm very humbled and honored,” Wagstaff described the moment.
Things got even better. Just as Wagstaff stood, Blue Springs police Officer Keegan Hughes ran out of the bullpen with the game ball. His steps onto the field were the last in his 9-day, 290-mile run across Missouri to honor fallen police officers and firefighters.
“All week we honored the fallen,” Hughes explained. “To end with a survivor, with a warrior, it was a good ending.”
The throw ended perfectly. Wagstaff launched a strike right down the middle. It didn’t even bounce on the way to home plate, one of his goals.
More cheers from the crowd, an approving, “That was awesome,” from the Royals catcher and pictures with his family and fellow law enforcement officers followed.
“It was awesome. It validates the whole reason why I'm doing my physical therapy,” Wagstaff said afterward. “Trying to get back to a semblance of what I was before this all happened.”
Wagstaff said his recovery is far from over. His ultimate goal is to be able to walk into the stadium and stand with the fans during a Royals game.