Brooks House had a mysterious bump on his jaw — the kind that changes everything for an entire family.
Dana House, his mother, assumed he was hit by a baseball. Her two boys — Brooks and Brady — were playing constantly. Brady was 8 and about to start playing travel baseball, beginning a journey that would make him one of the top prospects in the 2021 Major League Baseball draft — the Detroit Tigers could take him with the third overall pick.
Brooks was 6 and the bump grew at a frightening rate.
“It literally grew before our eyes,” his mother said. “It was amazing how big this thing got, like in two weeks, and then I started realizing, hey, something is not right.”
Brooks underwent a CT scan, and the results created a profound, lasting impact on the entire family. It tossed their lives upside down and forced them to face mortality and the fragility of life. And it dramatically changed how they lived and ate — Dana admits that she went to the extreme, putting her family on a strict, no-sugar, organically-based diet. Then again, it was the only thing she could control.
More than anything, it formed the foundation of how Brooks would approach everything from baseball to his relationship with God.
“I really do feel like what happened to Brooks has a lot to do with who Brady is,” Dana said. “Number one: it shaped him. Number two: it totally brought him closer to the Lord.”
Ten years later, Brady is considered one of the top six prospects in this draft along with two other high school shortstops — Marcelo Mayer and Jordan Lawlar, who could be taken with the first two picks; a pair of Vanderbilt pitchers in Jack Leiter and Kumar Rocker; and Oklahoma high school pitcher Jackson Jobe.
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It is likely the Tigers will take one of those six players.
So who is this power-hitting, strong-armed, high-school shortstop from Georgia?
The answer starts with that bump on his brother’s jaw.
Because it was cancer.
“Brady has said, ‘Whatever I go through, it’s not hard,’” Dana said. “What Brooks went through is hard. Brady says that a lot. He says that Brooks is his hero. In our family, we know what hard is, and we know what sucks, and we know what a bad day is.”
The upcoming draft?
That’s the easy, fun stuff.
‘We are truly blessed’
On June 17, 2011, Brooks was diagnosed with Ewing sarcoma, a rare bone cancer found in about 200 children and young adults each year in the United States, according to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
But if this discovery came with a shred of luck, it was the location where the cancer started. Fortunately, it was on his mandible, which allowed them to see the tumor growing and gave them a chance to catch it before it spread through his body.
Brooks went through about a dozen surgeries and chemotherapy.
“We spent well over 100 nights in the hospital,” Dana said. “It was craziness. It was so traumatic.”
For all of them.
“It was hard,” Brady said. “I just remember going back and forth to the hospital, seeing him go through all the surgeries.”
Surgeons tried to reconstruct Brooks’ jaw twice, once using bone from his ribs and another time from his fibula.
“Then, in between all this, he had to get his gallbladder removed,” Dana said.
Brooks underwent his final surgery in December 2012.
The cancer was gone, but they feared it would return, creating years of uncertainty. So Brooks went through a series of tests and scans. Each time the fears and questions would return: Was the cancer back? Would their lives flip upside down again? It was an on-going fear that loomed over the entire family.
“He had scans every three months, then every six months, and then we went every year,” Dana said. “And thank God, we’re on a plan now where he only has to go to the survivor clinic every other year.”
“He is considered cancer-free,” she said. “We are truly blessed.”
Bigger isn’t always better
While his brother fought cancer, Brady threw himself into baseball.
“He needed it,” Dana said.
Always big for his age, Brady spent years in the national spotlight, and baseball has taken him around the world. He was a member of the Team USA 2015 12-U National Team that won gold at the World Cup in Taiwan. And Brady created a viral sensation when he was 15 years old, hitting a home run onto the roof of a parking garage while playing for USA against Panama.
Brady entered the 2020 season considered the top prospect in the 2021 MLB draft.
Then COVID-19 happened.
When baseball shut down because of the pandemic, Brady started lifting weights in his basement, packing muscle onto his 6-foot-3 frame.
“He is very driven and focused on what he wants to accomplish things,” Michael House, his father, said. “We are a hard working family and taught our kids to work for what you want. Just go after it. Just work hard for whatever you want.”
Brady got up to 230 pounds. But he became too muscular, too bulky, and he struggled in the showcase circuit in 2020, becoming too pull-happy while chasing home runs.
“He had just kind of gotten too big for him and the shortstop position,” Michael said. “We kind of saw over the summer that that wasn’t the best decision, even though he was working hard. It wasn’t necessarily the right move.”
So he decided to change his diet and trim down.
“I’ve leaned up in the past year,” Brady said. “I kind of figured out in the fall that, hey, if I want to try to stay at shortstop, I’m gonna have to lean up a little bit so I can stay agile. So that’s what I did. I’m doing, it’s just a different workout program basically, for me.”
Now, he weighs a far more comfortable 205 pounds and has improved his agility and quickness.
“I’d say over the past year, I’ve gotten very, very good with my side to side movement and my first step movements,” Brady said.
He also changed his approach.
“Last summer, I feel like I was way too aggressive,” Brady said. “Trying to do too much with the ball. Trying to muscle up everything and hit it out.”
This spring, he became more selective.
“If you don’t like it, don’t swing at it because you still have two strikes,” Brady said. “And then if I did end up getting two strikes on me, I would shorten up and just try to put the ball in play and try to do something with it.”
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Brady worked out for the Tigers in Lakeland, Florida, on June 17.
“We’ve heard consistently throughout the spring that the Tigers really like House, his physicality and his power potential,” Baseball America wrote in a scouting report.
The Tigers have a glaring need for a shortstop in the long-term. They could always fill that need in free agency and then select a pitcher such as Jobe, a high school right-hander with a nasty slider; or one of the two Vanderbilt pitchers.
That is the Tigers dilemma: Will they pick a high school shortstop or go with a pitcher?
To add another layer to this debate, House brings something else that manager AJ Hinch loves — Brady is versatile. And he could end up at third base or a corner outfield spot.
“Outside of his power, House’s arm strength is likely his loudest tool, with a true howitzer of an arm that has been up into the mid 90s when he’s gotten on the mound and would easily play at third base or right field if necessary,” Baseball America writes.
‘My heart just wants to explode’
When Dana walks into a hospital, the painful memories come back.
“I can walk into the hospital and smell the soap,” she said. “You know, it’s that really strong antibacterial soap and the memories. That sounds crazy. But the memories that that soap brings me. Oh, my goodness, it’s insane.”
But this spring brought a happy ending when Brady and Brooks played on the same high school baseball team.
“It was very emotional,” Dana said. “It’s surreal. I told somebody the other day, I watch them and my heart just wants to explode. I can hardly take it. It’s just so joyful. And it’s just really special.”
While draft gurus debate if the Tigers will take a shortstop or pitcher — and as different players slide into and out of the projected top 10 — there is a family in Georgia that is able to keep it all in perspective.
Because they have faced real drama, real fear.
They know what sucks, as Dana said.
“It definitely put things in perspective for us and our family,” Dana said. “It was a long journey. A lot of surgeries. A lot of unknown. But God was good to us. It was definitely a journey. But everything’s great now.”
Cancer-free — thank goodness.
And waiting for the draft.
Contact Jeff Seidel: firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @seideljeff. To read his recent columns, go to freep.com/sports/jeff-seidel/.