'I knew I was dying:' Northern York grad overcomes bad choices, now mentors young players
- Anthony Lerew suffered a devastating leg injury in 2015.
- Lerew found religion during his injury rehabilitation process.
- Lerew is now the bullpen coach for the Kia Tigers of the KBO League.
Five years ago, in a parking lot, Anthony Lerew’s life changed.
The Northern York High School graduate was pitching for the York Revolution. He was trying to make it back to Major League Baseball, 14 years after he was drafted by the Atlanta Braves.
That's when his bad choices caught up with him and altered the course of his life.
Lerew admitted he developed what he called a big-league attitude after he spent more than a decade in professional baseball, including parts of five seasons in the majors. In searching for excitement and happiness off the field, Lerew purchased a number of vehicles, including the motorcycle that led to his transformation.
As he drove through a parking lot, Lerew said the bike stalled, and without the clutch pulled in, the back tire locked up and threw him off.
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“I went to put my leg down and it just snapped in half,” said Lerew, who was 1-7 with a 7.48 ERA over 61 1/3 big-league innings. “It was a freak accident. It was pretty unfortunate, but I needed a wake-up call. I was going down a destructive path of drinking and partying. You get into this selfish lifestyle where none of that other stuff matters, it’s only: ‘What do I want to do? What makes me happy?’”
Now, with his playing career over, Lerew has started a new phase of his life as the bullpen coach for the Korean Baseball Organization League’s Kia Tigers. He's using what he learned during his playing journey to help the next generation of baseball players avoid the same mistakes.
A difficult journey: Lerew’s injury required 14 surgeries after the rod his first doctors inserted into his leg got infected and needed to be removed. At his lowest moment after his sixth or seventh operation, Lerew said he gave up and was convinced that he would either lose his leg or his life.
“I told the doctor to cut my leg off,” Lerew said. “I knew I was dying. They couldn’t find any veins on me anymore, the infection was killing me from the inside out. I didn’t think I was ever getting out of the hospital.”
As he listened to a church service, Lerew broke down and began to cry. He said that from that point on, Jesus took over and the religion he found during the darkest time of his life has birthed a future he is proud of.
“Next thing you know, everything turned around and started going for the better,” Lerew said. “So I just started trying to live right and trying to use my situation to help younger people. I get to share the word on how not to take stuff for granted.”
His battle back: In the winter of 2018, Lerew completed his rehab and got back on the mound in a fall league in Venezuela with the help of his friend and mentor, former MLB pitcher Tim Hudson. Lerew and Hudson were teammates with the Braves from 2005 to 2007 and Lerew said he lived with Hudson’s family in Atlanta when he was first called up.
Hudson helped Lerew get back into playing shape by inviting him to his facility in Alabama and the pair work together for Hudson’s charity, the Hudson Family Foundation, where Lerew speaks to kids at schools and youth groups about his journey.
“I have been through a lot and I feel like I can help educate them on some things without really trying to force it upon them and just help steer them in the right direction,” Lerew said.
After his 2018 season in Venezuela ended with him throwing fastballs in the mid-90 mph range, Lerew wanted an opportunity to continue his playing career. He got a call from his former translator for the Kia Tigers, asking if he wanted an opportunity to join the team he played for from 2012 to 2013 as its bullpen coach.
After prayer and consultation with family, Lerew decided it was enough that he had battled his way back from the devastating injury to get back on the field and it was time for a new challenge.
Becoming a mentor: Lerew admitted that it was difficult at first to become a coach soon after he stopped playing, but he quickly learned that helping players achieve their goals was more rewarding than he ever imagined it could be.
“There was a little adjustment period because in my mind I was like, ‘I can still do this,’” Lerew said. “But the more and more you help guys out and they have a good game, it’s actually more fulfilling than anything you did as a player on your own. You can see the joy and appreciation on their face they have for you and it trumps most of what I have done in my career because I’m able to use what I’ve been through in my career to help guys and see how happy they are.”
Nearly 20 years since his pro baseball career began, Lerew has seen the highs and lows of where the sport can take athletes. The 18-year-old kid that was drafted out of Northern High is now an adult and someone he hopes his kids will be proud to call their dad.
With years of experience and his priorities set on his family and faith, Lerew admits he does have regrets about some of the choices he made in his past, but wants to use the challenges he faced to be a symbol for what making the right choices can do for your career and your life.
“I would say yes, but I wouldn’t change anything because I wouldn’t have grown to be the person I am now if I wouldn’t have done all that dumb stuff and learned from it,” Lerew said. “The game doesn’t owe you anything. It will chew you up and spit you out overnight. I went from being (in MLB) to laying in a hospital not knowing if I was going to have a leg. So, I try and use what I have been through to mentor guys and let them know if they’re having a bad day, it could be a lot worse. While you can put a uniform on, give it your best every day and hold your head up.”
Reach Rob Rose at firstname.lastname@example.org.