Boy inspires Blue Crabs players

Friday, Sept. 5, 2008

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Staff photo by CARRIE LOVEJOY
Dayton Webber hangs out in the dugout with players from the Southern Maryland Blue Crabs team on Aug. 19. After attending baseball camp, Webber got to be a mini-manager for the night and sometimes worked as the batboy.

The Southern Maryland Blue Crabs played quite a game against the York Revolution on Tuesday night, Aug. 19.

The local team led for the first seven innings, seemingly trouncing the Revolution. Then, the York team came back to score seven points, pushing the game into extra innings and eventually taking the win.

But it was a 10-year-old boy named Dayton Webber who really stole the show.

During some of the innings, Dayton could be seen running onto the field picking up bats after players had dropped them to run to their bases. Just before the seventh inning, he and the team’s mascot, Pinch, raced around the field, each trying to clean the most bases with giant toothbrushes – an antic that is more for the entertainment of fans than actually doing any real cleaning.

But this was no average race, and Dayton was no average batboy.

The 10-year-old Charlotte Hall resident was running on prosthetic legs — what his mother, Natalie, calls his ‘‘running legs” — and picking up bats with arms that were partially amputated when he was 10 months old.

The opportunity to spend the game in the dugout came for Dayton after he spent two days in baseball camp, one of the programs that the community team offers for children in the area. Dayton’s grandmother, Jackie Manson of Charlotte Hall, paid the $125 fee for the camp as a gift for Dayton’s 10th birthday. So once the camp was over, Dayton was deemed a ‘‘mini-manager” for the night, and got a close-up view of the game from the dugout.

As manager of the Blue Crabs, baseball legend Butch Hobson was one of the coaches for the baseball camp. Hobson said Dayton was a special addition to the camp, which was one of the last for the summer.

‘‘He’s a special kid,” Hobson said in a telephone interview the day after the game in which he shared his manager duties with Dayton. ‘‘He touched a lot of hearts around here with his enthusiasm. You can tell how much he loves life and loves baseball. Our players were so touched and so excited to work with him.”

Megan Burroughs of Swan Point said Dayton was special to the players, too. Her son, 7-year-old Clark, was in the same camp but in a different age group, and when he came home the first day, Dayton was his main topic of conversation.

‘‘He came home talking about how amazing Dayton was of an athlete,” Burroughs said. ‘‘The kids were really impressed with his athletic ability.”

That athletic ability won Dayton the Charlie Hussle Award, which Hobson said was for Dayton’s desire to run and play the game.

‘‘He never stops,” Hobson said. ‘‘He gets the most out of everything he’s got inside of him.”

Mark Viniard, general manager for the Blue Crabs, said he was surprised to see Dayton on the first day when he jumped out of a van to get started at the camp. More surprises came when he saw the boy’s enthusiasm for the game and ability to fit in.

‘‘He’s just one of the kids,” Viniard said. ‘‘One thing I noticed, he always has a smile on his face.”

Dayton said the camp was a blast, and helped him build confidence.

‘‘They taught us how to catch pop flies and grounders,” Dayton said last week. ‘‘It built my confidence, being braver about going after the ball.”

Natalie said her son had to work through some balance issues when he learned the proper stance for batting, especially because he was wearing his running legs. She said she was worried at first when she saw what her mother had given him for his birthday, wondering if the other kids in the camp would be starting out as better players, but Dayton kept up.

‘‘My mom said we’d just show up and have the best time we could have and God will take care of the rest,” Natalie said.

By the end of the second day, when Dayton got to be in the dugout with the players for the Aug. 19 game, he had made friends with the team and said he had a great time hanging out with them.

‘‘This has just been more than anything I could imagine,” Natalie said while sitting in the stands watching the game.

A rocky beginning

When Dayton was just 10 months old, he was diagnosed with a type of strep infection, according to his mother. She said doctors had to amputate his arms and legs to save his life.

By the time he was a year old, Dayton was already trying to walk on his amputated legs and he soon got his first set of prosthetics. Legs were the focus for then, and remain his preference now. He said he has prosthetic arms, but rarely uses them because he’s better at using his own arms.

Now, he has several sets of legs — some for running, some for walking and some he calls his ‘‘dress-up legs.”

As far as the walking and dress-up legs, ‘‘they’re kind of the same, expect one has a different kind of knee,” he said. ‘‘One is a free knee and one is a locking knee.” The free knee is a fairly new invention, and ‘‘will go out at any time,” he said. But, ‘‘it makes you walk nicer.” That one has taken more practice to master, but Dayton said he has it down.

Dayton gets his prosthetics from Maryland Orthotics and Prosthetics in Towson, a company that his grandmother, Jackie Manson, says has helped her grandson considerably.

‘‘He has an awesome company providing over and above what insurance pays for,” Manson said.

Over the years, Natalie said the family has tried different companies, starting with the Shriner’s Hospital in Philadelphia and eventually coming to Baltimore and now Towson. It has meant a lot of travel for the family, but she said the family doesn’t mind the miles. She has a 15-year-old son, Tyler, and a 4-year-old son, Justin, in addition to Dayton, so traveling tends to be a family affair.

Natalie said the company has come to use Dayton as a model for its inventions. He will be traveling to Chicago soon to show off those dress-up legs with the free knee and their technology that they call KISS, or Keep It Simple Suspension. ‘‘They invented a new way of suspending the prosthetic to the leg,” she said. By using Dayton as a model for the company, the Webbers have been able to keep their cost down. ‘‘The goal is to be able to be completely sponsored,” she said. Insurance handles the bulk of expenses, though, and Natalie said her company has treated them well.

‘‘They’ve been amazing for us, taking care of everything he needs.”

Now, Dayton is starting his fifth-grade year at Mother Catherine Spalding School in Helen. The school is full of stairs, but he said he handles them just fine. ‘‘It’s easy now because I’ve learned how to get up stairs and stuff,” he said, to get to his computer and art classes that are on the second floor.

Dayton has tried several sports over the last few years, including wrestling, football and go-cart racing. This year, he plans to start Motocross racing, and he already has an ATV to get started.