Heart issue didn't sideline Houston RBI player

Shortstop Thomas, 17, returned to game after undergoing corrective surgery

Heart issue didn't sideline Houston RBI player

They say it's heart that keeps players in the game when the going gets tough.

For Tyrone Thomas, the adage couldn't be more appropriate. Just about a year ago, after playing in the 2014 RBI World Series with Houston Astros RBI, Thomas got a phone call that changed his life.

"Last year, I was told that I couldn't play baseball ever again because I had a deadly heart disease called HCM," said Thomas, who is now 17 and in his third season with the Houston RBI program. "Most kids that have it are football players, and they don't really have a warning."

According to the Mayo Clinic, HCM (hypertrophic cardiomyopathy) is a disease that causes the heart muscle to thicken, making it harder to pump blood. As Thomas noted, those with the disease often display few symptoms, if any, and the condition can result in sudden death.

Thomas was determined not to become a statistic. Even more so, he wanted to get back on the ballfield as soon as possible.

"Tyrone is just a baseball fanatic," said Daryl Wade, director of the Houston Urban Youth Academy, which oversees the RBI program. "He loves to play.

"I'm not going to lie, I questioned, 'Should he do it?' It's all just a game; you have to live the rest of your life. But once he decided to do it, I support him 100 percent."

This past offseason, Thomas and his family traveled from Houston to California, where a cardiologist performed surgery on the high school senior. After taking a few months off to recover, he was ready to return to baseball, with no outward signs of his struggle.

"I have this little chest pack covering [my heart]," said Thomas, pointing to the area where his jersey fabric barely showed the strain. "I put it on every game."

"It's been a long road for him," said Wade. "A lot of folks don't understand what kids go through. They see the kid out there and think everything's fine."

At the quarterfinals of this year's RBI World Series, it certainly appeared that way. Thomas was the starting shortstop for Houston, which lost a 2-1 heartbreaker to Chicago Cubs RBI. The loss was bittersweet, though, as Thomas collected his team's final base knock of the season when he led off the bottom of the seventh inning with a line drive to right-center.

"He came through for us," said Wade. "I told him, 'This is the dream you live for.'"

Allison Duffy is associate editor for Major League Baseball. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.