What happened to Parker Byrd? How ECU baseball player went from boating accident to historic plate appearance

Parker Byrd nearly died in a boating accident in 2022. He made his miraculous return to the diamond less than two years later.

Byrd graduated high school in 2022, and coming out of Scotland High in Laurinburg, N.C. he was rated by Perfect Game as the No. 329 prospect in the 2022 high school class, 76th overall at shortstop. The East Carolina commit was viewed as a possible MLB draft prospect by the time his collegiate career was over.

But during that summer, he sustained an accident while boating. He underwent countless surgeries and ultimately required amputation of his right leg below the knee. There was no guarantee he’d return to the baseball diamond after the procedure.

Byrd did not play as a freshman with the Pirates, but on Friday to begin his sophomore year, he appeared in a game for the first time as a collegiate baseball player, taking a plate appearance in a contest against Rider.

How did Byrd go from the accident to returning to Division I baseball? Here’s what you need to know.

MORE: Ranking college baseball’s top 2024 draft prospects

Parker Byrd accident

On July 23, 2022, Byrd was tubing on the back of a boat when he, and a friend, fell off the tube, according to WITN. Byrd’s friend made it back to the boat safely. Byrd attempted to return to the boat, but as he did, the rope got caught in the propeller and pulled him toward it.

Byrd said the propeller sliced his right leg and hit him a bit in his left leg, according to WITN.

“I felt it happen but I was kind of in shock. Just all the adrenaline,” Byrd said, per WITN.

His friends reportedly got him out of the water and used shirts to tie his cut legs before another boat came to him. The boat had a nurse on it, who added more tourniquets to his legs as they took him to a marina. He was then taken to a hospital in Washington and air-lifted to Greenville.

Byrd’s girlfriend called his parents and told him to get to Greenville, believing him to be dying, a concern Byrd shared.

“I knew I was dying in the helicopter for sure. I felt my energy leaving my body,” Byrd said, per WITN. “It was kind of like my body was, my soul was like up and my body was still there and I was just kind of like laying there.”

His parents, Mitzi and Jeff Byrd, were two and a half hours away. 

“I think about that day a lot,” Jeff Byrd said, per WITN. “And like just like how … how getting that phone call just changed our whole world.”

The next two months were filled with surgeries. Mitzi Byrd posted on Facebook that on Aug. 4, a doctor told him his calf muscle was dying as it wasn’t getting enough blood flow. He said the plan would be to amputate below the knee, and warned against waiting, saying it risked Byrd further getting sick.

A second doctor agreed, and the plan was to have a mid-calf amputation, though it could change as they waited to see which muscles could be saved. He had the procedure on Aug. 4, 2022, to have a below-the-knee amputation to his right leg. It was his eighth total surgery.

“This is hard. I’m not going to lie, this is REALLY hard. Parker is trying to process it and we are trying to process it,” Mitzi Byrd said in the post. “I begged God to provide a miracle but we have to trust his plan. God knew what his story would be before P took his first breath. He gave us a miracle on July 23 by saving P’s life and for that alone, I am forever grateful and praising him.”

Though there was concern Byrd would wind up needing to lose the leg above the knee, the below-the-knee operation wound up being the only amputation he needed. 

In total, Byrd wound up undergoing 22 surgeries in 54 days

“The first 15 felt like they happened every day,” Parker said, per WITN.

Though he lost his leg, he maintained a determination to return to the field.

“Just because I lost a leg, doesn’t mean I’ve lost hope, or I’ve lost my heart,” Byrd said, per WITN. “So I’m just gonna try to do everything that I can just to get back onto the field.”

East Carolina manager Cliff Godwin has been supportive of Byrd throughout the process. He was among the first to be at the Greenville hospital after Byrd had his accident.

“Even from the very beginning I think he was one of the first people at the hospital. When everything happened and he’s been there the whole time,” Byrd said. “He would go check up on me in the hospital when I was having my bad days he’s been great.”

Following his procedures, Byrd began the work of getting back onto the field. And in March 2023, Mitzi Byrd announced in a Facebook post that Byrd would be fitted for a prosthetic leg with a grant from the Challenged Athletes Foundation.

The leg was one made by David Rotter, who specially fitted Byrd for the prosthetic.

Parker Byrd Super Bowl commercial

Byrd’s journey was shared in an ad that aired just before the Super Bowl. The commercial showed him taking batting practice from a wheelchair and exercising. 

Upon receiving the grant for the prosthetic, Byrd could be seen continuing his efforts to get back on the field, including fielding ground balls and preparing to take batting practice.

The ad was purchased only in one market: Greenville, and it was carried before the game. CAF co-founded Bob Babbitt said in a release that the ad cost only $500, a fraction of the $14 million it would cost to run an in-game, 60-second ad across the nation.

“Parker Byrd’s journey embodies the spirit of resilience that defines the Challenged Athletes Foundation,” Babbitt said in the release. “By highlighting his story on Superbowl Sunday in Greenville we aim to inspire the local community and beyond, proving that challenges can be overcome with determination and support.”

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PARKER BYRD | CAF SPOT from Machine Age Media on Vimeo.

Parker Byrd at-bat

On Friday, Feb. 16, Byrd made the improbable comeback. In the bottom of the eighth, Byrd walked to the plate, pinch-hitting for designated hitter Chaz Myers.

In doing so, he became the first player in NCAA Division I history to take an at-bat with a prosthetic leg.

Byrd watched the first pitch go by, then laid off four straight to take the walk and earn a walk in his first collegiate plate appearance. 

“I mean chill bumps, man, it’s absolutely phenomenal,” Byrd said after the game, per ESPN. “This crowd, these fans, these people, my family, my teammates, coaches I really could not be more thankful and blessed.”

Byrd’s family was on hand to see the moment he took that plate appearance, and he later made the jungle jump into the stands to celebrate.

“It is one of the proudest moments I have ever had as a coach,” Godwin said in an on-field interview with WCTI-TV, per ESPN. “And he’s going to get some more. He has worked his tail off, it was super emotional. The umpire behind home plate told me when I was making a change he has been umpiring for 17-18 years and it is the coolest moment he has ever been a part of.”

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