FAIRFIELD TWP. — Winston Spencer has discovered that he’s grateful for a lot of things.
He’s a junior outfielder for the Cincinnati Christian School baseball team that’s striving to win a Division IV state championship. The Cougars will play Russia in a regional semifinal Thursday afternoon at Carleton Davidson Stadium in Springfield.
It’s an exciting time for CCS, a level of play that some might find unnerving. But Spencer isn’t likely to be fazed by such pressure.
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He’s already been a caregiver for his mother Sara, who suffered a traumatic brain injury in an auto accident when Winston was in the fourth grade.
“It’s something I wouldn’t ever wish on my mom again, but it’s helped me learn what life is like,” he said. “I had to grow up a lot. I had to cook. I had to clean. I was her caretaker for a couple years.
“My mom was a completely healthy, active human being, and in a second, she can’t do anything. It really helped me to be more happy in the opportunities that I get.”
Sara Spencer was sitting at a red light and got rear-ended in the accident that changed her life. Winston attended CCS from kindergarten through sixth grade, but had to be homeschooled for most of the next three years because he was needed at home.
His father Malcolm had been self-employed, but got a job outside their home, meaning somebody needed to stay home and take care of Sara, a former IT analyst for UC Health.
“If a loud noise or anything high-pitched or anything sudden would happen, she’d get paralyzed,” Winston said. “It used to be four to seven days of recovery time. Now if it happens, it takes a couple hours to recover. It’s something the doctors have never seen before, so she takes a lot of pills every day.”
In his situation, being homeschooled meant becoming a part of the Providence Extension Program in Mason. Winston would go there two days a week and be home three days a week.
Taking care of his mother was one thing, a labor of love that was simply part of his being. But the homeschool part was something different.
“Most people who do homeschooling have multiple children,” Winston said. “I’m an only child, and it was really boring for me. I just couldn’t do it.”
He asked his parents if he could attend CCS as a ninth-grader and ended up taking one class. Winston has been a regular student the last two years.
“My mom has gotten progressively better to where I could come back full time, and I was blessed with a wonderful opportunity because my parents didn’t have the money to do it,” he said. “I still have to go home and take care of her, but she’s a lot better, so I’m very grateful.”
His parents are regulars at CCS games. Winston played basketball in the winter and now baseball in the spring, in large part to play with his two close friends, Cameron Rogers and Alex Johnson.
Malcolm is a bookstore manager and has flexible hours that allow him to get to their Lindenwald home whenever Sara needs something.
Winston said his mother has to deal with things that normal fans don’t even think about. She wears ear plugs so she can handle loud sounds. She can’t sit too close to a scoreboard, and sometimes the ping that comes from a bat hitting a baseball will affect her.
“But she makes it to every game, even if you have to carry her out,” Winston said.
He also lost three grandparents and an uncle last year during a span of less than five months. Winston admitted he feels a lot older than a kid who will turn 17 in a couple weeks.
Yet his experiences have made him something of a young expert at dealing with adversity. He’s happy to talk with anybody about it.
“I see people on our team going through a hard time,” Winston said. “Even though I’m 16, I can still give a lot of advice. I’d love to help someone who goes through a hard time. I wish I had someone there for me when I was going through the hard times.”
Cincinnati Christian baseball coach Curtus Moak, who’s also a local pastor, said Spencer clearly has perspective when it comes to playing the game.
“I’m sure that striking out is not as big a deal as it used to be. Perspective is important,” Moak said. “You get these kids for a few hours a week and you’re focused on the game, but as a coach, you feel those amazing opportunities to support them outside the field as well. You realize how incredible these kids are. They’re overcomers. They’re winners, even off the field.”
Moak said Spencer’s selfless attitude is an all-the-time thing. On the baseball diamond, he bats second for the Cougars and often gets the bunt sign. Spencer is fine with that, having admittedly gone from being a terrible bunter to a pretty good one.
His junior year has been even more special to him because he missed most of the 2018 baseball campaign with a knee injury suffered during basketball season. He was able to play in the last five baseball games (all in the tournament) of the season.
“I was really grateful just to be able to play this year,” said Spencer, who’s hitting .433 with 19 RBIs and nine stolen bases. “I’ve turned out to be one of those guys that gets the ball moving. I’ve laid down a lot of bunts, and I love doing it. I want to make something happen.”
He said this spring has been a precious time with his baseball brothers. Can the Cougars make it to Canal Park in Akron for the state tournament? That question will be answered in the next couple days.
“This means the world to me,” Spencer said. “We wouldn’t trade this for anything. I love the sport of baseball and I love this team, and I know they have my back. That’s something you could never ask for or want to change.”