To Bert Shepard, getting his leg amputated from the knee down was just a bump in his quest to fulfill his lifelong dream of pitching in the major leagues; to everyone else, it was an impossibility of incalculable proportions.
Growing up poor in rural Indiana, Shepard turned to baseball as an escape. Hours of throwing sharpened his arm and he had a legitimate shot to make a big-league career out of the game he loved. But when America entered World War II, Shepard put the game on hold, enlisting in the military.
On one fateful flight, he was shot down and crash-landed in enemy territory, close to death at the hands of angry German farmers armed with pitchforks. A Nazi doctor helped save Shepard’s life but couldn’t salvage his wounded right leg. Shepard’s dream of making it to the big leagues seemed destroyed.
Yet Shepard refused to give up. While at a P.O.W. camp, he first taught himself to walk and then how to pitch, learning to redistribute his weight on his artificial leg. When he made it back to the U.S. in 1945, a chance encounter with a top Army official led to a tryout with the Washington Senators.
Against all odds, he was given a spot on the team. And even though the team really had no intention of actually using him, Shepard was finally called upon to pitch in the middle of a late season blowout loss that meant nothing to the team. But to Shepard, walking onto that field meant everything. With each pitch, the crowd chanted his name. With each passing inning, Shepard pitched his heart out, earning the respect and admiration of his teammates and the adulation of the fans.