No Doubting Thomas

Arkansas' baseball team returns to Little Rock this week for a game against Louisiana Tech. While not home, the city holds a special place in the heart of Tom Hauskey. It was there that he got the care that gave him a second chance at the game he loves.

LITTLE ROCK - Tom Hauskey's story begins and ends with baseball.

As a fifth-year senior reserve Hauskey has twice been the hero this season for Arkansas. His pinch-hit game-winning singles against Alabama and New Mexico gave the Razorbacks identical 4-3 come-from-behind wins over a span of 17 days.

Hauskey was called upon again Saturday night at Ole Miss with two outs in the ninth inning and delivered with his first career home run, though it wasn't enough as the Razorbacks eventually lost.

Hauskey's hard work, dedication and determination have been a rallying point for the Razorbacks this season.

But Hauskey was a hero long before he ever stepped foot under the lights at Baum Stadium. He has long been a rallying point for his family. Hauskey's story begins in suburban Chicago where as a Cubs fan he ironically participated on a Little League team called the White Sox. Dedicated beyond belief, Hauskey coerced his parents into cutting a baseball diamond into their backyard.

"He was a real big fan of the movie ‘Field of Dreams,'" Hauskey's mother, Karen, said. "So every summer we would cut out a baseball diamond in the backyard and all his friends would come over and play."

Hauskey was very particular about his personal field of dreams. "It was so much so that we would cut the grass one length and then lower the blade to cut out a baseball diamond," said Jim Hauskey, Tom's father.

One morning the Hauskeys were cutting the grass and Tom, 6, felt it was time to change the location of home plate. As he was directing his mother where to turn with the mower something went terribly wrong.

"It was kind of early morning and the grass was a little wet," Karen Hauskey recalled. "He slipped on the dew and he got caught underneath the lawnmower and was ran over."

A nurse, she quickly tended to her son the best she could.

"She carried him to the porch and he asked, ‘Mom, am I going to die?' His leg was all mangled up." Jim Hauskey said. "His mom said, ‘No, but you might not walk again, Tom. We've got to be prepared for anything here.'"

The accident crushed Hauskey's right leg, along with the growth plates near his ankle.

"From that point forward the main bone in my lower leg didn't grow," Tom Hauskey said. "From the hips to knees I was the same but from the knees to ankles there was a two-inch difference."

Just a month later the family learned it would be moving to rural Northwest Arkansas as Jim Hauskey had taken a job with DaySpring Cards in Siloam Springs. That would take the family away from the comforts of Chicago, where it had family and some of the best orthopedic care around.

"Our surgeon in Chicago told us when we got to the South to look for a doctor named James Aronson," Karen Hauskey said. "He said he wasn't sure where he was but that Tom would need a procedure called the Ilizarov and that Dr. Aronson was a world-renown physician that had gone to study under Dr. (Gavril) Ilizarov in Russia, and had brought the procedure to America."

Named for the doctor that invented it, the Ilizarov is a limb-lengthening procedure that breaks and then separates the crushed bone, which is then supported with pins and rods. Over a long course of time the bone is slowly pulled further apart, creating a gap which then calcifies, creating a new bone.

"It was a fairly new procedure," Karen Hauskey said. "Our doctor in Chicago said Dr. Aronson might be in Atlanta, might be in Texas, but that he was somewhere down South."

As it turned out Aronson was working at the Arkansas Children's Hospital in Little Rock. Over the course of the next six years the Hauskeys worked with Aronson to figure out the exact time the operation needed to be done.

"When we found out he was in Little Rock we knew God was in control and it was such a blessing," Jim Hauskey said.

Meanwhile Hauskey wore a plastic lift on his right leg to keep his lower body in alignment. During the summer between his seventh- and eighth-grade years the determination was made it was time to go under the knife.

"It was three months of separation and three months of re-solidifying of the bone," Jim Hauskey said. "He wore a mechanism on his leg and when it was removed it had grown past the good leg knowing it would still grow. Then as the good leg grew it caught up so it worked out perfectly."

Though a tedious process, the operation was a success. In two short years Hauskey was quarterback at Central Junior High School in Springdale and playing basketball.

"Who knows what kind of athlete he might have been if it wasn't for the accident," Jim Hauskey said.

But baseball was Hauskey's true love and when he got to Springdale High School as a sophomore he turned his attention to that sport. Soon he was entrenched in a position battle at catcher, which he eventually earned for a team that went on to win a game in the state playoffs.

Though he had attended camps at Arkansas and had mutual interest with Razorback coach Dave Van Horn, there was never a scholarship offered. Then during his senior year a family friend interceded.

"(Former Arkansas coach) Norm DeBriyn used to work with him and told him, ‘Tom if you ever want to play college ball you either need to be a left-handed pitcher or a catcher," Jim Hauskey said. "Tom said, ‘Dad, I think I want to be a catcher.' He started catching and one day Coach DeBriyn came to him and said, ‘Tom, have you ever thought about walking on at Arkansas?' Norm encouraged him and so he did it."

Hauskey agreed to do whatever it took to get his foot in the door.

"Coach Van Horn said, ‘If you want to come out and catch bullpens for us and work your way onto the team we'd be more than willing to have you,'" Tom Hauskey said. "I kind of took that as an opportunity and tried to run with it. I've caught every bullpen that needed to be caught and took it as a way to work on my skills and every time I could take BP I took advantage of that, too."

Seizing every opportunity, Hauskey built up coaches' faith in him and it eventually began to pay dividends. After redshirting in 2006 and playing in just 22 games his next two years combined, Hauskey worked his way into the game 18 times in 2009, going 5-for-11 in pinch-hitting situations, including a hit at the College World Series.

"I really do embrace the pinch-hitting role," Hauskey said. "It's something I've come to have a lot of confidence in doing. I feel like I can get that job done. I get a lot of support from my teammates saying, ‘When we need a pinch-hit, it's Hauskey.' I like hearing that and it gives me all the more confidence to go up there and take advantage of any opportunity I'm given. I do a lot of preparation during the week just like any other player. Every player is working hard every day it's just that my work is for that one at-bat, so I've got to make it worth it."

It all finally came together on March 27 against Alabama. Arkansas trailed the game 3-0 at one point but had scored three straight runs to tie the game going into the ninth inning. Collin Kuhn led off the inning with a double and advanced to third on a sacrifice fly. After the Crimson Tide intentionally walked Zack Cox with two outs, Van Horn had a decision to make.

Marc F. Henning
Hauskey is lifted in the air by Zack Cox after his game-winning hit against Alabama.
The next batter, Brett Eibner, had been hit in the head and knocked to the ground in his previous at-bat in the sixth inning. With Eibner feeling woozy, Van Horn decided to turn to Hauskey, who had just returned that week from an oblique injury suffered three weeks earlier.

Hauskey responded to his coach's confidence by lining a 1-1 pitch into right field, scoring Kuhn and sending the Baum Stadium crowd into a frenzy.

Hauskey was brought in with a similar situation on April 13 against New Mexico, this time coming through with a bases-loaded single in the bottom of the 11th inning for another walk-off win.

"Both times I was getting into the car right as he was getting up to bat," Karen Hauskey said. "It was kind of amazing to hear it from the radio perspective because I got to hear a lot more than just see it happen. I got to listen to the excitement of the crowd and the announcers.

"It made me very proud. I kind of felt like he finally got what he deserved. He worked so hard for so many years and I knew everything he's worked for had finally paid off. Everything we had told him his entire life - just to work hard and stay true to himself, believe in God - had finally paid off in that one moment."

Van Horn said there's little doubt putting Hauskey into the games in those situations.

"He's kind of our ace in the hole," Van Horn said. "What I have confidence in is that he's going to put the bat on the ball especially when you've the winning run on third. He's one of those guys that I just feel is going to make contact and usually he's pretty solid.

"I have a lot of confidence in him because I feel like he's a contact guy."

He's also a mature guy, something Jim Hauskey said he had to be to overcome his unique circumstances.

"We use Thomas as a rallying point for our family," Jim Hauskey said. "Through him we understand God may give us different things. We might not be able to control our situation but we can control our attitude and our approach toward it.

"Tom kind of had to grow up really fast and he did. He stuck with his dream which was playing baseball at the college level."

By doing so Hauskey said he hopes he can inspire others in similar situations.

"The way I've come to look at my situation is no matter how many at-bats I get or what I really do for this team or program, maybe there's a different purpose for me in my life to reach out to people who need to overcome things in their lives as well," Hauskey said. "I'm more than willing to be that example. If people can find some inspiration from me then it's all the better."

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