Johnathan Taylor’s courage, spirit is inspiration for all of us

Johnathan Taylor is determined to join his new Texas Rangers teammates one day.(Jason Getz/AJC)

Johnathan Taylor is determined to join his Texas teammates one day. (Jason Getz/AJC)

Three draft picks sat in front of a room for a news conference.

Two of them were in folding chairs, wearing Texas Rangers hats, looking at their jerseys that were draped on a table in front of them and talking about their futures in baseball.

The other was in a wheelchair and wearing a black polo. No hat and no jersey in front of him. He also talked about baseball.

“It’s still at the center of my life,” Johnathan Taylor says later. “I can’t let go of it. … I’m focused on getting better, on my rehab, getting my legs under me again. I’m going to walk, then run. Then I’m going to get back on the field again, just like before.”

Amid the drivel of contract squabbles, collective bargaining issues and what cyclist might have doped when, it’s easy to lose sight of the truly important stories in sports. One of them took place Saturday. Taylor, the Georgia player who has suffered from partial paralysis since a collision in the outfield with teammate Zach Cone, reminded everybody what courage and inspiration look like.

The Braves’ series against Texas turned out to be wonderful kismet. The Rangers held a news conference at Turner Field for three of their draft picks from Georgia: Cone and pitcher Kevin Matthews of Richmond Hill, both of whom signed contracts this week, and Taylor, their 33rd-round pick, who turned one down.

Taylor, here with his childhood friend, Daniel Hallman, is greeted by the Rangers' Josh Hamilton before Saturday's Braves-Rangers game. (Jason Getz/AJC)

Taylor, with childhood friend Daniel Hallman, is greeted by the Rangers' Josh Hamilton before the Braves-Rangers game. (Jason Getz/AJC)

Taylor knew a contract would’ve negated his NCAA eligibility, and he plans to play again one day. So Texas, in lieu of a signing bonus, made a donation to the team’s foundation that is helping support him during his rehabilitation. Taylor’s plans are to return to Georgia in the fall and work toward completing his degree while continuing his rehabilitation at the Shepherd Center.

“The Rangers have been awesome,” his mother, Tandra Taylor said. “They made his dream come true. And they’re still going to make his dream come true down the line.”

He can stretch his arms out now. He can do menial tasks he used to take for granted. He can move his toes and various body parts, but would rather not get specific.

“I’m trying to keep it low key right now,” he said, smiling.

He has heard the odds are against him walking again, let alone playing baseball. He considers that background noise. They don’t know him, his determination, his will. They don’t know what he saw two years ago, after his mother fell asleep while driving and crashed into a tree.

She wasn’t supposed to walk again, either.

“She broke her femur,” he said. “People told her she wasn’t going to walk, but she wouldn’t listen to them. As you see her today, she’s walking. Her being by me every day, with her positive attitude since this happened, that really has meant a lot to me.”

Tandra Taylor stood in the back of the room while Johnathan sat in front, telling anybody who would listen that this fight isn’t over. It was easy to see where the son’s attitude came from.

“He’s coming back. He’s definitely coming back,” she said.

Johnathan was a freshman at Georgia when his mother was driving late one night in Acworth. She fell asleep at the wheel.

“The tree wouldn’t get out of my way. What can I say?” she said.

Now she can joke. At the time, she had a crushed femur and mangled knee. Doctors told her she wouldn’t walk again.

“They even thought about amputating my leg,” she said.

She thought otherwise.

“[Johnathan] saw what I went through,” she said. “Now he thinks, ‘If she did it, I can, too.’ And he’s younger than me.”

Taylor and Cone were chasing a fly ball in a March 6 game against Florida State.  Taylor slid, Cone dove. “Some reported it as a head-to-head collision, but actually JT’s head hit Zach’s hip,” said Janet Cone, Zach’s mother. “Zach said later he had a sore hip.”

Cone went through depression. Taylor told him a million times it’s not his fault, but it was difficult for Cone not to feel responsibility.

He says it’s a little better now.

“Just seeing him get a little better every day helps,” he said. “It makes you feel good.”

Janet Cone said, “Emotionally, Zach’s getting better. But he really won’t get better until JT gets better.”

The irony: Taylor is the one telling Cone to hang in there. He’s the one giving others an emotional lift.

“If you knew JT, that’s not surprising,” Tandra Taylor said. “If you ever think you’re going to get depressed, just hang around him.”

Three draft picks sat in the front of the room. All were looking forward to the future.

By Jeff Schultz

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49 comments Add your comment

Tilli

June 18th, 2011
6:52 pm

Outstanding!

Tilli

June 18th, 2011
6:53 pm

And I guess, FIRST!

TGT

June 18th, 2011
6:54 pm

I hope he can put on a baseball uniform again and play. How awesome would that be?

Paul in RDU

June 18th, 2011
6:54 pm

Jeff – Great story and what a great family.
On a related note, the new owners of the Rangers are a classy bunch.

country boy

June 18th, 2011
6:59 pm

Enter your comments here

country boy

June 18th, 2011
7:01 pm

Nice read Jeff. Hope all will continue to to think of Chance Veasey as well.

UKUGA

June 18th, 2011
7:04 pm

Great story. Thanks for adding the details about him turning down the contract. The AP missed that part.

http://sports.espn.go.com/dallas/mlb/news/story?id=6676226

dawgerbrown

June 18th, 2011
7:40 pm

Keep the faith and keep working hard Johnathan. You are an inspiration. Stories like yours puts things into perspective when we think we have challenges to deal with.

Sunraynews | Top US news

June 18th, 2011
7:44 pm

[...] Atlanta Journal Constitution (blog) [...]

you guys know

June 18th, 2011
7:45 pm

So the rangers use an early draft pick on Cone, who appears to have a mental block….so they draft Taylor, and maybe now Cone feels better. I hope I’m a cynic, but is anyone else thinking that there may have been something other than totally altruistic thoughts by rangers brass when they drafted Mr. Taylor?

Hit A Single

June 18th, 2011
8:00 pm

Great story! This is what we all need to focus on in sports and life. My heart goes out to Jonathan Taylor. Somebody that deserves alot of credit is Coach Perno. The way a team responds and surrounding organizations is a reflection of leadership. Coach Perno has provided this. Thanks Coach!

WALLY

June 18th, 2011
8:03 pm

WHAT AN OUTSTANDING STORY. I CAN NOT COMPREHEND WHAT JT IS GOING THROUGH. AS MUCH AS I LOVE SPORTS AND ESPECIALLY THE BULLDOGS, I REALIZE THERE ARE FAR GREATER THINGS THAN THE OUT COME OF A GAME. THAT IS ONE’S PERSONAL HEALTH AND OF COURSE WHERE WE SPEND ETERNITY. I TRULY HOPE AS A RESULT OF THIS ACCIDENT JT HAS TAKEN THIS IN CONSIDERATION. ONLY GOD ABOVE KNOWS WHETHER HE WILL WALK AGAIN OR FAR GREATER, PLAY BASEBALL AGAIN. I TRULY PRAY THAT HE WILL HAVE AN OUTSTANDING LIFE. WHAT AN INSPIRATION HE CAN BE TO FUTURE ATHELETES AND A TREMENDOUS HELP TO DAVID PERNO AND UGA.GO BULLDOGS AND OUR PRAYERS ARE FOR A COMPLETE RECOVERY.

Worm

June 18th, 2011
8:36 pm

Good luck Mr. Taylor.

chalkdawg4

June 18th, 2011
8:42 pm

Just got back in town. Are the braves on TV now? Lots of fun driving through the construction and the storms.

South Georgia Possum

June 18th, 2011
8:54 pm

Great Story. The Texas Rangers are a class act orginization and are to be congratulated and i hope these draft picks bring a lot to their orginization. It’s just so refreshing to read something that’s good and positive.

Lifetime Fan of Mr. Taylor

June 18th, 2011
9:19 pm

Thanks AJC for keeping us updated on the courage and continued recovery of Mr. Taylor..honestly I have been amazed and inspired by Mr. Taylor and pray to God that he reaches his dream of playing baseball again and with his teammat Mr. Cone..in fact based on his Faith and his unending will to overcome – I cannot see a reason why he will not reach his goals..I am a Tech fan..but I will be rooting for him when they next play GT and truly look forward to it. God speed on you recovery Mr. Taylor…you have lots of fans who are praying and rooting for you.

My son is named Ryan...

June 18th, 2011
9:37 pm

after Nolan Ryan. Class act.

Hillbilly D

June 18th, 2011
10:45 pm

Good luck to Johnathan Taylor and to Zach Cone.

JackDennis

June 18th, 2011
11:36 pm

Best of luck, lad.

JDawg1785

June 18th, 2011
11:42 pm

I’m praying for you every day, Johnathan. Can’t wait to see you in that Texas Rangers uniform. Stay strong, brother! God bless you!

MSA

June 18th, 2011
11:51 pm

This brought tears to my eyes. Knowing JT personally, this article could not have been a more accurate depiction of JT’s character. He has been such an inspiration for his determination and positive affect. Keep on trucking JT! God can move mountains, believe that!!!

Roadrunner

June 19th, 2011
12:31 am

I know I’ll always pull for the Rangers from now on unless they’re playing our Braves. This is what a class organization & what a class student/athlete look like! GO RANGERS & GO JOHNATHAN TAYLOR!!!

john gordon brown

June 19th, 2011
5:47 am

No matter what your stuggles are or what you come from or which obstacles you have to jump though. This IS a good story…. Yes, he is a UGA player. But guess what. Because he is a dawg, the Shepherd Center most likely has gotten countless donations to help fund research and funds to help people that can’t walk “for longer than 3 weeks.” You ever heard of Susan G Komen Foundation? Some times it takes a story and some elbow grease to get the momentum going and funds raised to help to try to find a cure or a way to help these individuals walk again. This kid is a class act. He has not asked for one bit of the attention. He continues to inspire his teammates, classmates and fans with his effort, heart, determination and will. Guess what… He’s caused a ripple in several people’s lives. The tidal wave is coming. I don’t understand why people get on these sights and try to degrade other people….what a great kid and a DGD

"Chef" Tim Dix

June 19th, 2011
6:39 am

Now that’s a well written column!

[...] Schultz: Johnathan Taylor’s courage inspiration to us all [...]

Buzz ME

June 19th, 2011
9:00 am

This Yellow Jacket says God bless you Jonathon Taylor and God bless the Texas Rangers!

Tim

June 19th, 2011
9:58 am

When this news story broke, this long-time Georgia boy and Braves fan, became a fan of the Texas Rangers. A very classy move by this team.

Benjamin

June 19th, 2011
10:05 am

Maybe it is because of the topic, JS, but I do believe this is the finest article I’be ever read from your hand. Get well soon, JT.

Bama Dawg

June 19th, 2011
10:16 am

you guys know – Hey numbnuts, if you have been following the story there were several major league teams that wanted to draft JT, but the Rangers pulled it off. Why can’t you just enjoy a good news story about a tough situation without being a butt?

I'm Praying for You JT

June 19th, 2011
10:34 am

The Bulldawg nation is behind you JT. Keep the faith!

JK Sockey

June 19th, 2011
1:57 pm

Good read Jeff, great story. This kid is going to be a success no matter where life leads him.

liberalefty

June 19th, 2011
3:05 pm

i’ve been in a wheelchair since 97 and its a lot of mental and physical anguish. wish the young man well

oldbird

June 19th, 2011
3:17 pm

Great story Jeff. I just said a prayer for you JT and will keep you on my prayer list. I hope to see you in a Rangers uniform soon.

Don Draper

June 19th, 2011
7:13 pm

Nice job Jeff. Wow, this is a kid who has every right to be bitter and depressed and I am sure there are days where he is challenged to avoid becoming just that, but he seems to be doing great. Wherever this journey ultimately takes him, he has already accomplished more than most and is truly an inspiration.

P.S. “you guys know”, you are a loser and a classless d-bag, but I am sure you are already well aware of that.

NewnanDawg

June 19th, 2011
8:58 pm

Every time I read an update on JT, there is news of improvement, like his toes moving now, and I just thank God for every little sign that his future is bright. I will keep up the prayers for this fine young man and also say one for “you guys know,” that maybe he can find a way to live life with a less cynical outlook. There is nothing about this story that should take anyone to negative town.
Looking forward to many more successes for JT!

5150 UOAD

June 19th, 2011
10:54 pm

I am guessing that sounded too Harsh. What I am saying is that the young man has to forget sports and don’t get depressed. Taylor has to decide to make a living other than playing a sport. We have Soldiers coming home every month that are in the same or worse condition that will not have many of the options Taylor has.
Stephen Hawking has done so much as his life has become worse. Taylor just has to refocus and keep positive about all the other options available to him.
God never gives you more than you can handle. I am sure Taylor will keep working to walk and have a life he had before the accident, but if that doesn’t happen SO WHAT. He is more than a Baseball player and he is young. He can do so much in his life as long as he keeps the positive attitude.

RomeDawg

June 20th, 2011
5:59 am

What a great article! Very inspiring!!

Paul H

June 20th, 2011
9:07 am

Great article, Jeff. Enjoyed the photos, too.

greg

June 20th, 2011
10:11 am

This is one young man who I expect to be a success no matter where his life leads him. My grandmother would always say “God never gives us more than we can handle”. JT seems to be proving this every day. God speed on your recovery JT, and God bless the Texas Rangers! My new second favorite team.

BTW…JS….great story!

In Athens

June 20th, 2011
10:35 am

For those who are cynical of the Rangers. I go to church with one of the UGA players. He told me that the Rangers wanted to sign him and put him on the MLB 40 man roster so he would be eligible for the medical benefits and doctors of the big league team. JT turned it down (as the story said) to keep his eligibility. He really expects to suit up for UGA one day. The Rangers showed it was really about JT when they made an actual donation and not just about press. They put their money where their mouth is. I, for one, am convinced.

Bill

June 20th, 2011
10:39 am

If you have Faith of a Mustard seed…I believe you have that and I’m praying for you daily. Thanks to Texas Rangers for being first class. Somethings are more important in life than just a win in score box. Keep the good fight…you already a winner in my book.

Thanks Jeff ..Great story.

shankit

June 20th, 2011
11:11 am

Jeff, always enjoy your columns, but this is the best.
You would make a good caddy.

AGTFan53

June 20th, 2011
11:38 am

Great column and story. JT is in my prayers. I hope to someday see him playing baseball again. You got to pull for a guy like him.

Snake Doc

June 20th, 2011
11:43 am

Probably the best article Schultz has ever written. Kudos to you Schultz

[...] with a broken neck and — for now at least — confined to a wheelchair. But according to a column by Jeff Schultz and a story by AJC reporter Meghan Rose, Taylor fully intends to play baseball. He has truly become [...]

Georgia Tech Fan

June 20th, 2011
12:27 pm

Good Luck Taylor!

'94 UGA Alumni

June 20th, 2011
1:15 pm

great article Jeff. We’re praying for you JT! The next time I feel like complaining I’m going to think about you and your awesome attitude.

liberalefty

June 20th, 2011
7:27 pm

liberalefty

June 20th, 2011
7:30 pm

i love how ablebodied folks fawn over the handicapped. i’ve been in a wheelchair since 1997 and have had my share of condensending sympathy from folks like SCHULTZ. FOLKS like him use pity as a way to pat themselves on the back because they just think theyre doing the “cripple” a favor.