ST. LOUIS — Every time you come to Busch Stadium, you could be seeing a player for the ages.
But on this day, the most impressive player might only be age 10.
"He's a 10 out of 10," said his baseball coach Jason Mickey. "The kid is an amazing athlete."
Elijah Schultz is here today seeking autographs but his signature is determination. Eli was born in Ghana, Africa, and adopted by the Schultz family when he was 13 months old. He had special needs.
"He had amnionic banding," explained his dad Tobin Schultz. "When he was born, he had a natural amputation below his left knee. And then he also had webbed fingers, missing fingers and a webbed foot on the right side."
It's been a long road of surgeries and rehabilitation, as the family made the 300-mile trip from their home in Joplin, Missouri to St. Louis.
"Our goal is to provide as much function and appearance but as much function as we can," said Dr. Charles Goldfarb of Washington University's St. Louis Children's Hospital.
Dr. Goldfarb, an orthopedic surgeon, basically reconstructed Eli's hands.
"Essentially three fingers were webbed and he was having pain at the tips," explained Dr. Goldfarb. "So we came up with a plan to separate the fingers and remove a little bone from one of the fingers to give him more space."
But those procedures only pushed Eli's pause button.
"The hard part is that you have to go through physical therapy to regain what you lost," said Eli.
The one thing that Dr. Goldfarb couldn't see on his x-rays is that Eli had competition in his bones.
"He was eating dinner too fast," Tobin Schultz said, "and my wife said slow down. This isn't a race. And as a 3-year-old, he looks at her and he says, mom, everything is a race."
When he started playing baseball, some opposing coaches made the mistake of confusing disability with inability.
"You could tell the way he's walking up there. You're like, maybe it's an easy out," laughs Coach Mickey. "But then he hits it out of the park. "
This past baseball season, he led his team in home runs, RBIs and was picked to play at an All-Star game in Kansas City. And he's ok when the other kids ask questions.
"Sometimes people say 'What happened to your leg?'" Eli recalls. "And I'm just like, 'No big deal. I was born like that.'"
Back at Busch Stadium, the Cardinals heard his story and helped arrange a meeting with his hero, Dodgers outfielder Mookie Betts.
Mookie's likeness is even painted on Eli's prosthetic leg, and that now includes an autograph. Mookie came over to visit before batting practice.
But dad says, when it comes to heroes, Eli is his.
"He's absolutely an inspiration for me," said Tobin.
Fewer and fewer people now notice the missing leg or missing fingers. What they do see is a lot of heart.
"I hope this makes people not look at individuals and judge them based just on face value or what they see. I hope it changes the conversation, "says Tobin.
Eli Schultz: showing us all in extraordinary circumstances you can often find extraordinary people.
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