By Rubin E. Grant
Senior Night for the Vestavia Hills baseball team became more than just a special evening to recognize 16 seniors.
It also was an evening to witness a profile in courage.
Senior right-handed pitcher Alden Windham has been battling a mysterious illness for months, dealing with agonizing pain, first in his legs and then in his back, with his condition confounding doctors and medical specialists alike.
Early this season, a doctor advised Windham to stop playing baseball, but Windham had other ideas. He worked as hard as he could to get himself ready to pitch again.
So on Senior Night, March 29, he returned to the diamond and stepped back on the mound, pitching a complete game with 10 strikeouts and allowing only one earned run as the Rebels defeated Vincent 13-3.
“He threw great, like he’d never missed a beat,” Vestavia Hills coach Jamie Harris said. “He had been struggling with inflammation, specifically in his back, but he was still sitting at 85-86 mph with his fastball.”
Windham’s remarkable performance could have been his last baseball game. He was in such pain afterward that two days later, on March 31, his mom, Jamie Windham, drove him to the Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville to seek answers for his ailment.
Out of the Blue Came Pain
His saga began late in the summer. He had Tommy John surgery on his right elbow in 2019, but he recovered in time to pitch during the 2020 season. Then the COVID-19 pandemic put an end to his junior year.
Windham was preparing for his senior season and had completed his summer throwing program when he started experiencing pain in his legs in August 2020. His body began to ache everywhere.
He was told to rest, go to physical therapy and take steroids, but relief was not forthcoming, nor were any answers for what was wrong with him.
During one of his examinations in November, doctors discovered Windham had torn both quad muscles, which was extremely rare, and wondered how he could even walk. So he underwent more tests, had MRIs, blood work and biopsies, but nothing concrete was found to explain his condition.
As doctors at Children’s of Alabama and UAB, as well as Stanford and Baylor, where some of his lab results were sent, examined the tests, Windham and his family waited.
Jamie Windham said several possibilities emerged, such as a muscle disorder, an autoimmune disease and a mitochondria issue. But nothing was definitive.
Despite the pain, Windham practiced as much as his body would allow and joined the Rebels’ baseball team as the 2021 season started. He pitched four solid innings in a game against Hillcrest-Tuscaloosa on Feb. 23, but the outing left him in pain that shifted from his legs to his back.
“On the 25th, he told me he might need to go to the emergency room,” Jamie Windham said. “When we got there, they pulled up his shirt and there was inflammation on his back and his right side. His chest area also was inflamed.
Windham was admitted to Children’s of Alabama as the search for answers continued. Finally, a doctor told him that he needed to stop playing baseball.
He had been playing baseball since he was 5, going to batting cages over the years with his dad, Forrest, to improve his skills.
Harris said Windham, who also plays first base, had begun receiving attention from colleges. “He had proven he was good enough to play in college,” Harris said.
Windham didn’t want to hear that his career was over. He begged his parents to let him take the field one more time and they relented.
“He loves the game,” Jamie Windham said. “He’s a great pitcher.”
Windham made his gallant return on Senior Night, showcasing his talents despite the pain and the loss of nearly 40 pounds since his ordeal began.
“It gave me chills,” Jamie Windham said. “It was heartbreaking because I know the kind of pain he was in, but at the same time it was beautiful. I could see him taking his time and breathing hard, but he got through the whole game.
“It meant a lot to him and to us.”
Harris, who lives next door to the Windhams, marveled at what Windham did.
“It was special,” Harris said. “Baseball has been a big part of his life for so long. Our guys knew what he was going through, so it was a special moment, not only to see him out there but also to see him do well. It meant the world to him and it meant the world to us. Now I just hope they can get some answers.”
At the end of the school year, the Windham family, which includes Alden’s younger sisters, Adler and Ava Scott, will be moving to Nashville, where Forrest Windham is already working.
After traveling to Vanderbilt Medical Center, Alden Windham and his mother returned to Vestavia Hills on Friday evening.
“We wanted to get a fresh set of eyes for what is causing the flare ups, but we didn’t get any answers,” Jamie Windham said. “We must have seen about 20 different doctors. They gave him some meds to manage the pain and told us to come back next month for a follow-up.
“It’s not just that he can’t play baseball, but he can’t play tennis with (his) girlfriend, go kayaking or do any other sports. That’s pretty life-changing for a 17-year-kid.”