Bryson and the Blazers

(Courtesy: Chris Johnson Burks)

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT)- The UAB Blazers are preparing for the first of two games against their cross-town foes, the Samford Bulldogs. Two hours before first pitch, the stands are already buzzing as a group from Mississippi piles their way into Regions Field. Among them is the Blazers biggest fan, Bryson Burks. “Well it was last year, probably February,” said Tyler Mims, a first baseman for the Blazers. “It was an early game, we were at Regions Field.” Catchers Mitchell Williams and Holt Davis remember the same game. “I was getting ready to go back into the locker room and there was a little boy and his mom at the corner of the dugout here,” said Williams, gesturing towards the end of the bench. “When we met him I thought he was just another kid that wanted to meet the catchers and get an autograph,” said Davis.

“We really started the bond just talking baseball and things like that,” said Mims.

That boy was Burks. He and his mother, Chris, were driving through Birmingham and noticed the lights of the downtown ballpark. “We were like what’s happening here? So we come and we see baseball,” said Burks. Bryson gravitated towards the players at his favorite position. “He said his favorite position is catcher and he just wanted to talk with me for a minute,” remembered Williams.

Baseball is what brought the Burks to the ballpark, but it’s not why they were in Birmingham to begin with. Burks’ father, Brett, was undergoing dialysis treatment at UAB Hospital. Brett was awaiting a kidney donor, and the family had received news that one could be closer than they thought. The stress from watching his father suffer had caused Bryson to begin having non-epileptic seizures. “They found out I have conversion disorder,” said Bryson. “It’s how my body deals with stress.” Brett got his transplant from his wife’s cousin, but his body did not respond well. Brett passed away when Bryson was ten years old.

The experience touched Bryson, not just from the loss of his father; he was heart-broken by everyone suffering through dialysis treatment. “It was so stressful to see that some of the people that went in didn’t come out,” he said.

It was during this time that Bryson’s relationship with the Blazers began to grow. He especially bonded with the three catchers of the 2014 team, Mims, Davis, and Williams. “Of course I came to UAB to play baseball and was thinking about the baseball aspect,” said Mims, adding, “But, the things you can do outside of baseball and the lives you can touch and the people you can help, it really is amazing.” The team took Bryson under their wing, inviting him down to the dugout and on the field before every game he attended. “That’s such a tough loss at such an early age, losing your dad,” said Davis. “We knew we couldn’t replace his dad, but we wanted to try and fill that void as much as we could.”

The loss of Brett left the family searching for answers. Bryson and his mother turned to a high power. “One night me and my mom were saying our prayers and we asked God how to get through this, with the loss of my dad,” said Bryson. “Well, He showed me, why don’t we start a foundation to help children on dialysis around Christmas?”

The result, is Kidney Head . Bryson has pushed his young organization into a national movement. He’s met with politicians, Phil Robertson from Duck Dynasty, and even a former Miss Alabama. “I don’t think there’s a limit for this kid,” said Williams before the Samford game. “The way he’s responded with such joy and care for others instead of getting negative and feeling sorry for himself like most other kids would is amazing,” said Davis.

It all comes back to Bryson’s favorite position. Catchers have to be tough, smart, and willing to do the dirty work every night; but, it’s the most important characteristic that Bryson Burk embodies that makes him a perfect fit at the position.

“You have to be a leader,” he said.

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