When the baseball season began, Erika Brannock and her friend Breanna Dickerson made plans to spend a Saturday night this summer attending an Orioles-Yankees game at Camden Yards.
Two weeks after they purchased tickets for Saturday's game, those plans and Brannock's life was altered during the Boston Marathon bombings on April 15. Brannock, a 29-year-old preschool teacher from Towson, lost her left leg below the knee and needed multiple surgeries to save her right leg.
When Brannock was able to return home from Boston last month — she was the last of the injured to be discharged from the hospital after 50 days — Dickerson asked if she still wanted to go to the game.
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"She said, 'We're going," Dickerson remembers her friend responding.
And before Saturday's game, Brannock and Dickerson were side by side on the field, invited by the Orioles to watch batting practice. Seated in a wheelchair, Brannock wore an orange Cal Ripken Jr. shirt and clutched a baseball full of autographs in her lap. Dickerson wore a Yankees jersey.
"I started to get butterflies in my stomach when I saw the field and I started coming up," Brannock said. "I've never experienced anything like that. It's just really cool to be out here. My dad used to bring me to Orioles games when I was little back when Cal was playing. … He's probably my all-time favorite."
While Brannock was hospitalized in Boston, she received a call from Ripken that she said helped boost her spirits.
On Saturday, she played the role of celebrity. Orioles manager Buck Showalter approached, followed by pitchers T.J. McFarland and Kevin Gausman. Before the Yankees took batting practice, their second baseman Robinson Cano posed for a photo with her, and manager Joe Girardi came over to shake her hand and give his regards.
"Just the people coming up and saying hi and asking how I'm doing. Just the idea that people who are big athletes and well-known people care about how I am, it's been really cool," Brannock said.
Dickerson said she called the team asking if they could get handicapped seating for the game. The Orioles did better, inviting Brannock and Dickerson to watch from a suite.
Brannock said she has surgery to do repairs to her right ankle scheduled for the first week of August and, after more physical therapy, she hopes to be walking on crutches by the end of that month. Her left leg is being fit for a prosthesis.
The Orioles have invited her back to throw out the first pitch when she's ready. Brannock said she's looking forward to that moment.
"I think I've been in front of enough crowds," she said. "But there are definitely some jitters you're going to have, but I'm not scared to go out there and push myself further than my comfort zone. You've just got to push through it and go for it."