Walking miracle meets favorite Tigers
DETROIT -- Balaal Hollings survived a bullet that remains lodged in his brain, yet still hopes to fulfill his dream of playing college football.
Doctors have told Hollings that that isn't likely, but he figures they’ve been wrong before and notes, "God is in charge."
Hollings also was told he’d never walk or talk again. He's doing both now and plans to attend either Eastern Michigan or Wayne State in January.
Hollings will undergo another surgery next week at Detroit Medical Center’s Sinai-Grace Hospital, where on April 8 he arrived in a speeding ambulance with little chance to live after a ricochet shot hit part of his skull at a house party in Detroit.
“They’re replacing part of my skull with titanium,” Hollings said.
He took off his Tigers baseball cap to expose the wound to Detroit All-Stars Torii Hunter and Prince Fielder, who met with Hollings in the clubhouse at Comerica Park over the weekend.
“Balaal took that hat off and it was like, ‘Man!’ Hunter said while pursuing his lips and shaking his head. "What he’s been through, this kid?”
Hollings was the senior class president and a six-sport athlete at Detroit Northwestern High. A 6-foot-2, 320-pound nose guard and offensive lineman, he planned to play at Lakeland College in Sheboygan, Wis.
After the accident, Hollings inspired his classmates -- who also voted him class clown -- by attending the Class of 2013 graduation and addressing them.
He’s convinced that his faith in God has gotten him over every hurdle, and Hunter agreed.
Said Hunter: “I told him, ‘God has bigger plans for you. Stay the way you are, and good things are in store for you.’
"He’s intelligent, with a lot of character and charisma. And he’s very mature for being 18. Ten years from now, we’ll be saying, ‘Look what he’s doing!’ There’s no limit for that kid.”
Hollings smiled and said: “For Torii to speak so highly of me, saying, ‘He’s going somewhere!’ Well, that means so much to me.
"I love that guy. He’s so down to earth, and I felt like I’ve known him my whole life.”
I interviewed and wrote about Hollings after he made his miraculous recovery. At the time, he asked about my profession, what I usually covered.
When I told him that I wrote about the Tigers, he said he wanted to meet Torii Hunter. I told Hunter about Hollings, and Hunter was enthusiastic about talking with him.
A meeting was arranged, and Fielder became captivated with Hollings when he came into the clubhouse.
“Prince was so happy to see him,” Hunter said.
Said Fielder: “He’s a nice young man and a very good guy. You can tell. And he has such a great smile on his face all the time. I really liked meeting him.”
Hollings received an autographed bat from both players and got a signed glove from Fielder -- a first baseman, just like Hollings. Tigers equipment manager Jim Schmakel found him a XXXL Tigers pullover at the request of the players.
“I told Prince, ‘You make big dogs look good,’" Hollings said. “And he laughed about that. I was wearing a Prince Fielder T-shirt and told him I had to shop for one that fits.
"He said, ‘I know the feeling,’ so they got me something that finally fits.
“Prince, meeting him was on my bucket list. His personality, like Torii’s, was something so special.
"Hey, I’ll never forget meeting them. I’m so blessed and thankful.”
For two of the best players in baseball, the feeling was mutual.