Fargo Post 2 second baseman Ben Bryant heard a pop in his knee last fall that could have ended his American Legion baseball season months before it began.
The Fargo South graduate redshirted his freshman year for Des Moines (Iowa) Area Community College. While practicing with the DMACC baseball team in October, he was running the bases in tennis shoes. He was slowing down as he reached third base and slipped on the dirt. As soon his foot hit the grass, it twisted and Bryant felt a pop and knew he was going to be sidelined for an extended period of time.
The diagnosis was a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) and partially torn meniscus. His timetable for recovery was seven to nine months, so it was uncertain if he was going to play legion ball this summer. He ended up being on the shorter end of that estimate and was cleared to return to baseball in late April.
After getting hurt, rehab started immediately. One day removed from the hospital, Bryant was instructed to simply start bending his knee, which was painful. He said the biggest challenge, though, was not being able to participate.
"The hardest part was showing up to practice and watching the guys do something I wasn't able to do," Bryant said.
Once he returned to the field for Post 2, he said the main struggle was with his conditioning.
"I was kind of weak," Bryant said. "I got cleared just a couple weeks before the season started and I did not have the stamina I used to at all. ... Our first (drill) that we had to do for our conditioning, I was the last one because I didn't have anything."
Post 2 coach Luke Rustad was ecstatic to have Bryant back and healthy this summer. He described Bryant as a coach on the field with his high baseball IQ and ability to give feedback to his teammates.
Rustad explained Bryant's presence as going beyond just participating in the game, but also being aware of everything going on around him. He cited a specific example where Bryant's knowledge and leadership shined.
"I can remember a game, going out and talking to my pitcher and (Bryant) comes up and says, 'Hey, maybe we should intentionally walk this guy, he's had a couple of good at-bats.' And the guy behind him struck out," Rustad said. "I go, 'You're right, thanks for talking to me about it.'"
Rustad said there are guys out there who enjoy the game and others, like Bryant, who have a special passion for baseball.
The level of effort is another thing that sets Bryant apart, according to his coach. He described a game in which the Post 2 defense was in a bases-loaded jam with two outs.
The ball was hit on the ground and got past the pitcher. Bryant charged the ball, scooped it with his bare hand and made the throw to first, getting the runner out by a step.
"That's what's special about him and his love for the game," Rustad said. "There's so many things over the last four years where he's just made plays that I think other kids would've given up on. ... He just keeps playing the game and doesn't give up on anything and makes those extra-special plays."
He has a high skill level, according to Rustad, but the intangibles like dedication and passion are what makes him stand out. Bryant's commitment to the game and the team were on full display last summer, when he had lingering food poisoning for about a month.
"Last year during regionals he had been sick and before our game he was at the hospital getting IV," Rustad said. "'He said, 'Don't you dare take me out of that lineup.' He made it to the game and started and played well."