Local baseball player has 'come a long way' since gunshot wound, cancer diagnosis

Local baseball player has 'come a long way' since gunshot wound, cancer diagnosis
(Photo Source: WLOX)
(Photo Source: WLOX)
(Photo Source: WLOX)
(Photo Source: WLOX)
(Photo Source: WLOX)
(Photo Source: WLOX)
(Photo Source: WLOX)
(Photo Source: WLOX)

BAY ST. LOUIS, MS (WLOX) - The Mississippi Gulf Coast baseball team added a lot of speed to the 2016 roster, which includes former St. Stanislaus Rock-a-Chaw Chase Rhodes.

Rhodes was a two-sport star at St. Stanislaus -- a state runner up in football his senior year, and then going all out in a grass-stained, bag-swiping route to a baseball state title.

"He really caught our eye in the state championship game; the last one he played," MGCCC baseball head coach Rodney Batts said. "We knew he would bring an immediate impact on our team."

But leading up to his leadoff duties with St. Stanislaus, he encountered something as a 7th grader that was more unpredictable than a head-hunting fastball.

He was accidentally shot in the leg by his father, Rocky, who had been cleaning his rifle after a hunting trip.

"I was in my room laying in my bed upstairs," Chase Rhodes said. "He was cleaning it and the bullet went up through the ceiling, through my floor, through my leg and up out the house."

"I thank God every day for what happened and where that bullet went," said Chase's mother Rhonda, who was a few feet away from the gun when it was fired. "It could have been so much worse. There could not have been a better scenario for that to happen. If that was to happen, it couldn't have happened a better way. It missed every vital structure in his leg."

Understandably so, the father of three was overwhelmed with guilt. He and Chase already had a close relationship, but his son's ability to quickly forgive the mistake brought them even closer together.

In fact, Chase and his older sister, Kirby, argued about as much as you'd expect young siblings to, but rarely did after the accident.

"I said, 'How did that make y'all stop fighting,'" Rhonda Rhodes said. "[Chase] said, 'Well, when I saw her crying, I realized she really did care what happened to me.' Not forgiving someone usually comes out of being angry. When you love someone, you can't hang onto those kinds of things."

Following multiple surgeries, 12-year-old Chase recovered.

About a year after that during unrelated circumstances, the recent teenager took a late, hard hit out of bounds near the end of a first-half football game. What he thought was broken ribs turned out to be much worse.

"The doctor said they found a mass in my chest," Chase said. "It wasn't normal, but it didn't look anything too crazy."

"Typically if you have a mass that size, you also have other lymph nodes that are positive for cancer," said Rhonda, who is also a nurse. "Based on the initial diagnostic results, he didn't have any of that, which means that we caught it really early. That hit was pretty critical when we found it because he had no symptoms."

Instead of a more invasive surgery that would require a larger incision in Chase's chest, the Rhodes family found a doctor in Dallas that used robotics and could also make a smaller cut while doing so on his back.

Once Chase was diagnosed with Hodgkin's Lymphoma, which is a cancer of part of the immune system, he was referred to St. Jude Children's Hospital.

"When I was first diagnosed, I was so scared," Chase said. "I couldn't move in the bed. I couldn't physically move. To me, cancer was really bad but it couldn't happen to me because it was too bad to happen to me.

"There were days where you didn't want to be up and [I'd] say, 'Why does this happen to me? Why can't I just be a normal kid?'"

"I didn't really know what to say," said Luke Logan, who has been Chase's best friend since preschool. "I was young and I didn't know how serious it was. Right when he came back, it was like nothing changed and it was the same ole, same ole."

He returned to Mississippi and was homeschooled until the latter half of his freshman year of high school. Even before Chase returned to St. Stanislaus, Rhonda had taken time to write a thank you letter to Poplarville football player Malik Lucas, who initiated the cancer-discovering hit.

"While I was initially very angry, once we realized how lucky we were to find the mass when we did, I was actually thankful that it happened," Rhonda said. "It was a friendship that blossomed out of nowhere."

Only a 15-yard personal foul like that could be so cherished.

"God used him to make a huge difference in our lives," Rhonda said. "I don't know what God has planned for him in the future, but he's already used him for some pretty important stuff. I hope he never forgets that."

Chase, now cancer-free and a freshman on the MGCCC Bulldogs, thinks about his tumultuous middle school life every few weeks. While events like that are obviously unforgettable, he is now living the normal life that he was been hoping to obtain.

"I think about it and I'm like, 'Wow, I was pretty young whenever all that stuff happened,'" Chase said. "It's sobering to think about. I can't tell you exactly what all was going through my mind but I guess, when I think about it, I've come a long way."

"Knowing Chase now, being with him for six months and now knowing what he's been through, it's not suprising knowing that he overcame that," Batts said. "It doesn't surprise me that it was his attitude going into cancer and beating it."

"He's another brother to me," Logan said. "I wouldn't know what to do without that man. He's a special person."

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