The world watched in horror last month when a tornado ripped through Moore, Oklahoma, killing 24.
Cameron Wood, a rookie pitcher with the Thunder Bay Border Cats, was lucky to escape with his life.
The 19-year-old Wood, whose family lives in Moore, said he had about 20 minutes notice on May 20 that the deadly twister was tracking for his suburban neighbourhood, and sought refuge in a neighbour’s storm cellar across the street.
It was one of the longest stretches of his life, not knowing what the world would look like when it was safe to emerge to open ground.
The tornado, which delivered winds in excess of 320 kilometres an hour, touched down less than half a mile north of his parents' home and laid waste to entire neighbourhoods, even collapsing a school where several children and teachers had sought refuge.
Wood says he was convinced his family would have no place to call home as they waited for the all clear.
“It was definitely frightening,” Wood said Monday, two days after making his Border Cats debut, earning the win in Saturday’s 7-4 come-from-behind triumph over the visiting Willmar Stingers.
“In the storm shelter we could hear the sound of the tornado. It was definitely a life-changing experience. Inside the shelter I just knew my house was going to get hit. Once I came out and finally saw all the devastation, and saw that my house was fine, I felt relief.”
But then the guilt began to set in, Wood said.
“I knew people whose houses who had been hit,” he said, thankful his parents’ home had suffered only minor damage to its roof.
The aftermath is just starting to sink in for Wood, a freshman with Oklahoma’s Redlands Community College, where he went 2-1 with an 8.49 ERA this season.
“Even though something bad happened, the town just came together and everybody just started helping each other out, which just kind of showed what kind of people live there,” he said.
The decision to head northward, for uncharted territory in Thunder Bay, was not an easy one for the teenager, less than a year removed from high school.
His immediate instinct was to stay and help the town rebuild.
But his family, friends and mentors told him to put those thoughts aside, assuring him there were plenty of boots on the ground helping the community find its feet again.
His assistance could wait until after the baseball season.
“Now that I’m here, I can’t really do anything, so it kind of leaves me with a heavy heart. But I know there are a bunch of people who could help them get through their struggles,” Wood said, adding he’s lived through tornado scares in the past, though nothing of this magnitude.
Border Cats manager Dan Holcomb, who contacted Wood to join the team after the disaster struck, says the fact he came says a lot about his dedication to the game.
“We didn’t understand he was that close. Afterward they told us he was about a half a mile away from where the tornadoes came through. There’s a lot more things in baseball and life and when something happens like that to your home town, a lot of guys would have just stayed there and helped out,” he said.
“Cameron wanted to come up and play baseball. We know his mind is still (in Oklahoma) and his heart is still there with his family and friends, but it means a lot. It means he cares and definitely wants to be there.”
Wood and the Border Cats take on the Mankato Moon Dogs Monday night at Subway Field.
Game time is 7:05 p.m.
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