Most college baseball players dream of the day they get drafted by a professional team.
Tennessee senior third baseman Matt Duffy, who anchors UT’s infield, isn’t like most college baseball players, though. And not getting drafted after his junior season was one of the best things that could’ve happened.
“Being a baseball player, that’s what you want,” said Duffy, who leads the Vols with five home runs and 32 RBIs this season heading into a weekend series against Georgia that begins at 6 tonight at Lindsey Nelson Stadium. “But my biggest blessing in disguise in my entire life has been that I didn’t get drafted.”
Not getting drafted gave Duffy the summer months to spend with his older sister.
Catelyn, the oldest of five Duffy children, was diagnosed with Fanconi Anemia at birth, a blood disease that leads to the failure to produce bone marrow, and battled the illness her entire life. She died over the summer at age 22.
“I’d go in there a lot,” Duffy said, “try to skip school, do everything I could to just go in there and hang out with her for the day.
“Being my older sister, she was definitely the one I looked up to. She never complained once throughout the entire 22 years that she lived.”
Baseball couldn’t have been a big enough distraction for Duffy during the summer months. He chose not to play in the Cape Cod League after not being drafted, instead staying home with family.
“I’d do the same thing everyday,’’ he said. “I’d wake up, go work out and spend the day (at the hospital), just hanging out with her.
“I tried to stay occupied, but it was the only thing on my mind 24-7.”
Catelyn more than just beat the odds her doctors initially gave her when diagnosed with the disease. She had two bone marrow transplants, one at age 9 at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota and one at age 19 in a New York City hospital.
“When she was born doctors told her she wouldn’t live until she was five,” Duffy said. “She beat two bone marrow transplants, which was unheard of. She lived to 22, she graduated high school. She lived a wonderful life.”
What made Catelyn’s life wonderful, Duffy said, was the closeness of the family.
The family moved to Minnesota while Catelyn received treatment at the Mayo Clinic. Duffy, the second oldest, and his younger siblings moved back home, to Milton, Mass., in time for the school year to live with their grandparents.
His parents, Ed and Janice, stayed behind with Catelyn.
“We’re so close,” Duffy said. “My dad and my mom, I don’t know how they did it. She was never alone for one minute in the hospital, and I can’t imagine how many hours she logged in there.
“I still say I’m one of five (children), she’s definitely still part of our family … We have a big family, and we’re very, very close. She kind of held us all together.”
Reality began to set in for Duffy during his sister’s second bone marrow transplant, when he was a freshman at the University of Vermont.
“It definitely made me grow up quick,” said Duffy, who transferred to UT after Vermont ended its baseball program in 2009, after his sophomore season.
“I just remember, by that point, you fully understand what it’s all about. It just took a toll on me … you just wanted the best for her. It wasn’t her fault, there was nothing she could do.”
Even with the reality of having a chronically ill sibling, there was nothing abnormal about the situation.
“It was in no way, shape, or form a person that if you looked at from the outside, you wouldn’t know she was sick. She was a short, tiny little kid, but she had the biggest heart ever.”
Despite the illness, despite the loss of a sister, despite everything, Duffy said there’s nothing he would change.
“If you asked me again if I would change anything, if I could go back, if I could wish my sister wasn’t sick and maybe she was a different person, I wouldn’t change it for the world.
“Everyone that she came into contact with, she definitely touched them in a positive way … She was the greatest person I’ve ever met.”
Grant Ramey is a freelance contributor.