Written by Corbett Smith
Club feet haven’t stopped Plano West's Blake Bruce from excelling on mound, at plate
PLANO — Watching Blake Bruce walk, it’s hard to imagine the Plano West senior as an athlete.
Born with two club feet, Bruce saunters slowly and steadily, much like someone who’s strained his lower back. People often ask him if he’s injured.
“It’s painful to watch — his gait and the angles and everything,” Plano West coach Kevin Clark said.
Then, the soft-tossing lefty gets on the mound — and quickly retires the side. Or he gets in the batter’s box and ropes a double off the top of the right-field wall, as he did in a Game 2 win against Allen last weekend.
“When I go in to the doctor, they’re always surprised that I can play sports,” he said. “I’m lucky, I guess.”
Bruce — a three-year starter in left field — is a key cog on Plano West (23-11-1), which has advanced to the Class 5A Region II semifinals, starting a three-game series Friday against The Woodlands (32-3). At one of the largest high schools in the state, on a team with centerfielder Billy McKinney — a potential first-round draft pick — Bruce leads Plano West in doubles (13). With a pitching repertoire that his catcher, Connor Smith, describes as “slow and slower,” Bruce is 3-1 with a 3.24 ERA in six starts.
“It’s so amazing,” his mother, Martha, said. “All I ever wanted for him was to be able to walk.”
At birth, Bruce’s feet were folded in on each other; Martha described them like a hand with the fingers closed all the way to the palm. Once a week for the first three months of his life, at Scottish Rite Hospital for Children, Bruce had his feet manipulated and placed in a cast to his knees.
When that procedure failed to yield results, surgery was the next option. Bruce had a U-shaped incision on the back of each foot from one side of the ankle to the other, in an attempt to lengthen the tendons. A pin was placed in each foot, and he was casted again, this time to the hip. As a result, he didn’t start walking until he was nearly 2 years old.
But since he started walking, he hasn’t slowed down, Martha said. Keeping up with his older brothers Chase and Garrett, Bruce grew up playing sports year-round. He was a quarterback on West’s sub-varsity football teams until the end of his sophomore year, before concentrating on baseball.
“He’s a very instinctual player, because he’s been playing sports his whole life,” Clark said. “So he’s got a very quick first step, and that helps him out a ton. If he didn’t have that first step, we probably couldn’t play him in the outfield.”
This season, in the middle of district play, Clark made Bruce the team’s No. 2 starter. It was a curious decision. Bruce hadn’t started in high school and doesn’t overpower anyone, using a changeup to set up a mid-70s fastball.
“I know I’m not a normal district pitcher,” Bruce said. “But I try to attack, and throw strikes, and not be scared.”
It’s that fearlessness that Clark and Plano West will rely on as they tackle The Woodlands, the state’s top-ranked team.
“The old term ‘bulldog’ — that’s him,” Clark said. “He epitomizes that attitude out there. He’s such a great competitor. The bigger the game, the better he generally does.”
Follow Corbett Smith on Twitter at @corbettsmithDMN.