Baseball Features - Collegiate Baseball Newspaper
Wilson Survives Three Gunshot Blasts to Body
By LOU PAVLOVICH, JR.
© 1998 Collegiate Baseball Newspaper
LEXINGTON, Ky. Death was staring at John Wilson.
He had lost an enormous amount of blood after his dad Jack fired two shotgun blasts through a door into his chest and right arm with over 22 pellets and shrapnel piercing his body.
The haunting sound of blood showering down to the floor still gives this talented University of Kentucky first baseman chills.
But survival is a term he has grown accustomed to.
You see, John not only lost his parents to divorce and his cherished family life, but also lost his home which he had lived at since he was a baby. He left in the worst possible way, being taken out of his home on a stretcher as he was bleeding to death with the two shotgun blasts through his chest and arm.
If this wasnt enough, John witnessed his baseball program being eliminated at Cal. St. Northridge last June and was forced to transfer and leave his home town to play at the University of Kentucky.
Courage doesnt even begin to describe what John Wilson is all about.
He should be the poster boy for overcoming adversity.
"As far as my home life, it was always bad and turbulent," said Wilson.
"Both of my parents did their best raising me and my sister. Basically my mom and dad went through some problems which were a little more intense than what they had been in the past as I was entering my first year at Cal. St. Northridge the fall of 1996. My sister was a year behind me in her senior year of high school."
Wilson was a highly prized recruit out of Los Angeles Baptist H.S. He was named to the Los Angeles Times All-Area team as a junior and senior. He registered a 9-1 record with an All-Area high 119 strikeouts as a pitcher while connecting for a .457 batting average, 8 home runs and 44 RBIs in his senior year.
"My mom was so concerned that she had a restraining order brought against my dad. He was just trying to get back with her. But he lost it a little bit on several occasions, and she changed the locks on our house."
Wilson said his dad owned his own general contracting business and had built the house they had lived in. So this may have contributed to the behavior of his father.
"My mom and sister had already moved out," said Wilson.
"A lot of the furniture was already moved out of the house. I was set to move into the dorms at Cal. St. Northridge the next morning.
"This ugly situation all took place the day after my birthday. The day of my birthday was pretty bad because of the turn of events leading up to this. My dad didnt just flip out in an hours period. He was basically stalking my mom. I didnt see why she was avoiding him.
"They werent being honest with the problems in their marriage at that time, and he was going crazy in the meantime. I was just stuck in the middle. I had been living at home and went to Mike Batesole (head coach at Cal. St. Northridge) and said things are getting real bad at home, and I had to get out. In my original scholarship, it was understood that I would live at home because it was my home town.
"He got me more scholarship money. I was scheduled to move into the dorms only a few hours after the incident."
Wilson said the entire situation all came to a head early the morning of Sept. 30, 1996 at about 4:30 a.m. when his dad showed up at the house with a shotgun. Wilson said authorities were not sure if his dad was on drugs or not.
"It was something that was never brought out in the open, but my mom questioned this," said Wilson.
John said the early morning hour his dad arrived at the house was not uncommon for him to be up because he routinely left for work at this time since he was a general contractor.
"If some of the heavy equip-ment broke, and he had to be at work the next day, he was forced to stay up all night to fix it. Sometimes he came home at 4:30 or 5 in the morning, grabbed a pot of coffee with breakfast and left again to start the day.
"So it was a common time for him to be coming home or leav-ing."
How Incident Began
John said an explosion of a gun woke him up from a sound sleep.
"I couldnt tell if it was from the front door or the back door. I quickly got up and headed directly to the front door and found out it was my dad trying to get into the house. Later I learned he was shooting double 0 buckshot from the shotgun, which is a very lethal round.
"He tried to enter through the back door first and cut his hand badly when he tried to blow the locks off the door. I think he tried to twist the handle of the door, and all the metal was sheered as the gun shot blast went through it. The sharp edges cut him."
John said his father had come around the house and attempted to enter the front door since he had been unsuccessful tangling with the steel back door.
"At the same time I was trying to open the door for him. He yelled, Open the door. And I yelled, dad. I think I yelled dad in between two shots. Im not sure exactly how it happened.
"Two rounds went off. The first round went through the wooden front door and hit my throwing (right) arm in the biceps area. I was still groggy from being asleep, and it was pitch black. I didnt realize what was exactly happen-ing. It all happened so fast. It seemed like instantaneously that the second round went off. It caught me on the right side of my chest. Shot gun pellets entered my liver while others punctured my lung.
"Shrapnel from the wood in the door also entered my body. There have already been 22 pellets that have been taken out of my body. There is still more in my body. There are pellets still in my shoulder and parts of my arm which surgeons didnt feel like tearing through."
Blood Pours Out Of Body
Wilson said as blood poured out of his body because of the two shotgun blasts, his dad ran from the scene. His dad didnt call an ambulance to help his son who was in serious condition.
"He fled, took off. He was de-finitely in an alternate state, lets put it that way," said John.
"He was definitely not in his right mind."
Wilson said his girl friend was the one who ultimately saved his life by calling 911 for help.
"My girl friend was with me at the time. She was going to help me pack up in the morning and move out. She was the one who was on the phone with 911 the whole time. It was absolutely horrible for her."
Wilson said he instructed her not to move and stay in the room until he checked what the sound was coming from. I thought I may be able to go out and calm my dad down and tell him the only people in the house are me and my girl friend. So here I am half asleep, heading to the door and worrying about my girl friend and won-dering how I will calm him down all at the same time."
Wilson said it took 25 minutes for an ambulance to arrive on the scene.
"I never lost consciousness during the time of the shooting until the ambulance arrived. I didnt even fall down. People dont believe me, but the blood marks in the living room show that when I was shot, it blew me back, and I spun off to the side. I never actually fell. I yelled, Ive been shot. I remember my side just showering blood.
"The most haunting memory I have is the sound of blood splattering against the floor. I still remember the sound of that, and it freaks me out. I ran into the room where my girl friend was on the phone and just fell down. She was hysterical. I just grabbed a pillow and put it under my arm next to my side. With my other arm, I pushed it up against the wounds. Then I just reclined on the floor."
Police, Paramedics Arrive
When the police and paramedics arrived, they didnt know if Johns father was still in the house with the shotgun or not. So John reacted quickly so help could enter the premises.
"I had to regain my composure, picked up a chair and threw it through one of our front windows because the police and paramedics didnt know what was going on inside.
"Then my girl friend yelled, hes in here! Youve got to get in here to save him! So thats when they decided to break the door down. If she wasnt there, it would have been bad news."
"Finally they decided it was safe to come in but couldnt come in because the door was jammed. So they had to break the door down. It took five to 10 minutes more for them to break through the door."
After paramedics entered the room, John was put on a stretcher and was rushed to a local hospital in an ambulance.
"By the time I got to the hospital, I passed out because of the extreme loss of blood," said Wilson.
"I was in surgery all day and was in critical condition and on life support with breathing machines. I had seven tubes coming in and out of my body pumping blood out of my lung. The tube to my lung didnt come out for five days. I had 500 cc of blood (just over a pint) pumped out of my right lung alone."
Wilson said his mom learned about the shooting incident that day.
"Everybody thought I was going to die because of the critical condition I was in. When the news broke, it didnt look good at all. When I did wake up, they didnt know whether I would ever be able to use my arm ever again. Things just got better and better.
"But amazingly, in 3 1/2 weeks after the incident I was running two miles and getting myself back into shape. Literally a week before the accident, I had earned a starting spot on the baseball team at Cal. St. Northridge. It looked like I was going to be the starting third baseman. They were starting to count on me to do certain things on the field.
"The reason I began a rigorous rehabilitation process was because I didnt want to let the accident get in the way. Having this whole episode happen to me in my own home town was extremely tough. I was cloaked in such embarrassment, adversity and all these different feelings that all I could think about was getting back to baseball as quickly as I could."
Because of the extensive injuries he sustained from the gunshot blasts, he was forced to take a medical redshirt last year in his freshman season at Cal. St. Northridge.
Another Cruel Blow
Then another cruel slice of life hit he learned last June that administrators at Cal. St. Northridge had decided to guillotine the program. The one-two punch of the shooting incident coupled with the elimination of the baseball program was almost too much to take.
"I had made the decision to take a medical redshirt so my freshman year could really be something special," said Wilson.
"Coach Batesole was very supportive of me. He knew I needed to answer back at life in general, and he wanted it to be done in the right way. I had already signed to play for the Santa Maria Indians summer league team.
"So here I was headed up to Santa Maria with three of my teammates. We were about to field a great team next year, and then they cut the program at Northridge."
Wilson said he hopes all the trials and tribulations of the last year are behind him now.
"I dont know how to describe it other than saying God has always been a part of me. He has allowed me the strength to overcome difficult times such as this. Nobody is ever given anything more than they can handle. These two situations pushed me to my limits.
"But battling for my life, losing my parents, losing my family, losing my home, having to leave that home on a stretcher and then to have the baseball program I was at cut along with transferring and leaving my home town to go to Kentucky was awfully difficult.
"It has been a series of tough experiences. But they have made me stronger."
Moving On To Kentucky
Wilson said moving to Kentucky has been a pleasant adjustment.
"Kentucky has a lot of great things. I dont have to worry about earthquakes. It is calm and quiet. I can rest when I go home. I always have a quiet place to study that is tranquil. I am very thankful for having the opportunity to play at such a great school. The transition here was so much smoother than you can ever imagine."
Wildcat Coach Keith Madison has done a superb job with Kentucky since he arrived on the scene in 1979. He is one of the great coaches in the game of college baseball and has run a class program with great people.
Madison has guided his teams to 586 victories entering the 1998 season more wins than any other baseball coach in school history and the second highest mark among active coaches in Southeastern Conference Games. A remarkable 77 players have gone on to play professional ball with 15 playing in the Major Leagues.
John saw his father for the last time eight months ago during a trial at Los Angeles Superior Court. On July 11, Jack Wilson was convicted of attempted murder in the second degree and also of stalking his wife.
He was sentenced to 10 years at Solano State prison.
John was asked if he has ever called his dad or written him a letter since he was sent to prison.
"Athletic Director Maury Neville at Los Angeles Baptist H.S. (Wilsons high school) was actually my T-ball coach in Little League®. From the time I was four to the time I got out of high school, he oversaw everything I did in baseball. He was best friends with my dad and was always around. When it came to recruiting for college, he was the guy the coaches would talk to. He has been a major, major part of my life.
"After the accident, he was the only one who actually stayed close to my dad. It seemed like everyone in the world abandoned my dad. Nobody wanted to be associated with him. He was in jail, and I believe Mr. Neville was the only one who visited him besides his parents.
"About three months after the accident, Mr. Neville told me, John, no matter what happens, hes still your dad. At the time I wasnt ready to talk to my dad. I wasnt ready to be in any type of communication with him. I still wasnt clear whether my dads intentions were to kill me or not. Whatever it was, I knew I had forgiven my dad for what had happened. I was ready to move on.
"I didnt have counseling or didnt talk to anybody about it. But I knew that when I got to a position to get past this and am in a secure position in life, then it is something I want to do. I want to stay in touch with my dad."
Writing His Dad
Just prior to last Christmas, Wilson took the plunge.
"Just before I went home for Christmas break, I wrote him a letter. I just sat down and did it one day. I kept hearing this phrase in my mind that Mr. Neville told me which was Hes still your dad. He is my dad no matter what happens. Once I got to Kentucky, I met a lot of great guys on the team. I went bowling one night with one of my teammates, Jeff Meade.
"Jeff just brought up the subject out of nowhere and started asking questions. Jeff was so amazed that I hadnt talked to my dad. He asked me, Arent you ready? I responded that I guess I am now. He told me that he still was my dad. From that point on, I knew I had to write my dad a letter. This issue was not going away. Its time.
"When I wrote him the letter, my dad was so joyous that I had written him. He repeatedly said that he loved me. He never apologized or even brought up that subject. He told me he wants the best for me. He told me that when he finally gets out (of prison) that we will all be a family again. He was more stuck on the fact that our family had been torn apart, and he wanted to do everything in his power to make that better.
"That was fine with me. I wasnt ready to talk to him about anything other than the simple stuff. I just needed to let him know that I loved him and that Im ok, still playing ball and doing well. I felt he just needed to hear that."
Wilson said since that time he has sent occasional letters to keep his father updated on life and baseball.
"When I get out of college and am in complete control of my surroundings and myself, I will pursue a more personal relation-ship with him. And by then, he will be out of jail, and well be able to do that."
Meeting His Dad Again
Wilson was asked how he would react if he is playing pro baseball down the road and his dad walks up to him at the end of a game out of the blue.
"I really dont know. I have dreams about things like that. I hope from here on out the relationship with my dad is one where there are no surprises around the corner. I hope and pray that I am in control of what is going on. I hope if we see each other, its not that way. I would hope we could meet in an arranged setting. I definitely cant wait until he can see me play again because its something that is important to him and very, very important to me."
Wilson is beginning to flash some of the talent at Kentucky that he showed at Cal. St. Northridge prior to the incident.
John began his season by only hitting .136 through the Wildcats first seven games. But he has put on a hitting clinc in his last four games as he has gone 7-for-14 at the plate with 10 RBIs. He has raised his batting average over 140 points in those four games from .136 to .278.
Since the shooting incident, he has been on a special stretching regimen before games and practices.
"I have lost some arm motion and arm mobility. I dont think I have lost any strength. But the scar tissue tightens up so bad that I become uncomfortable. After about five minutes of long toss, my side cramps almost as if I am out of shape and trying to get back into shape by running a hard mile. So its a constant stretching process. It will tighten right back up if I dont stick with it."
In addition, Wilson has embellished his diet with nutritional supplements.
"Prior to the accident, I weighed about 170 pounds. When I got out of the hospital, I weighed 160 pounds. But now Im at 203 pounds because of a well balanced diet and the nutritional supplements. Guys are always teasing me about using GNC and things like that. The nutritional supplements have helped tremendously. Im in a more powerful position to produce more RBIs and secure a spot in the middle of the lineup.
"Last summer I found my leverage point well and hit nine home runs in 45 at bats. My biggest plus as a baseball player prior to the accident was that I could do many things. I could pitch, play any position on the field. Since the accident, I have become more of a power hitter and done some things with the bat I havent done before.
" It gave me confidence going into Kentucky and SEC compe-tition that I could do some things I hadnt done before."
Father Helped John Develop
Wilson was asked how his father shaped his baseball career from a young boy.
"Both of my parents helped me in baseball," said Wilson.
"My dad was an assistant coach on many teams I played on, especially from the ages of 10-14 or so and all through Little League®. Growing up I had it great. I played for Northridge (Calif.) Little League® which has been to the Little League® World Series. My dad was a real big part of that and was a prominent figure in terms of coaching.
"He definitely was a working man who would come straight from work every day. Everyone always seemed to take to him. He was always a very intense guy.
"At about the age of 12 or 13 I probably passed him up as far as baseball knowledge. But he was always preaching to me about the merits of working hard and staying humble. He always liked to use the phrase, always buy gravel which meant to go all out for everything.
"He always kept the attitude of players upbeat and helped everyone to work hard."
Madison Amazed At Wilson
Keith Madison, head coach at Kentucky, said the story of Wilson is amazing.
"Initially, one of Cal. St. Northridges coaches contacted my assistant coach about John at the time when Northridges baseball program was being eliminated last year. They were trying to find spots for some of their better players. John sounded like a young man who could hit in the middle of the lineup and drive in some runs.
"Thats what we felt we needed to help our team. So one thing led to another, and we began recruiting him. We gave him a scholarship offer after we had him out for a visit. He seemed to like our campus and got along well with the players and coaches who he met. I knew there had been an accident, and he had been shot. But I didnt know the entire story. While on his visit, John volunteered to tell me the whole story.
"I admire John so much because of the way he has handled this adversity. Hes not bitter. As soon as he got out of the hospital, he was working toward being back on the playing field. He did some courageous things in order to continue with his baseball career.
"If you were to see him play, you would never know any of this went on just over a year ago. He has to stretch more because a major part of his injury occurred in the shoulder area of his throwing arm. He has an excellent throwing arm. Its almost a miracle he can generate that type of arm speed and throw the ball that well.
"Sometimes its hard for me to believe this is only his second year out of high school. Hes only a freshman athletically because of a medical redshirt last year at Cal. St. Northridge. But his maturity is such that he seems like an older guy.
"When he makes a mistake on the field or if he takes a pitch which I felt he should have crushed, I start getting upset. But then I realize its his first year playing college baseball. I need to treat him like the other freshmen."
Overcomes So Much
Madison said he has never had a player in 19 years at Kentucky who has overcome as much as Wilson.
"Ive had players overcome the adversity of losing a parent or sibling or being injured. But I dont believe I have ever had a player overcome this much so soon in life."
Madison said Wilson plays hard to win during games.
"Fighting through this adversity has created more of an intense desire to win and succeed."