MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) -
It is here on the diamond at LBW Community College in Andalusia where T.J. Fleming made his mark.
The first to show up, the last to leave.
"He worked his butt off, an outstanding player," said coach Steve Helms.
So much so head coach Steve Helms and the team plan to retire Fleming's number which was 35. But this story goes far beyond the ballpark, a story of a 20-year old man who would not quit.
"I can't describe the character of this young man. If I could package it up, this world would be a better place," said Coach Helms.
In a way it is already a better place because of T.J. Fleming was diagnosed with cancer in his jaw just 5 months ago, a tumor so rare and so aggressive, according to the coach, doctors still don't have a name for it.
"He started chemo. They held it for a while. A month ago it came back and it took over," said Helms.
While Fleming's body wore down, it seemed as though his grit and optimism grew all the more. A veteran coach of more than 20 years, Steve Helms says he's never seen anything like it. Had he lived T.J. Fleming would have split time as catcher and third baseman.
"T.J. told me one time 'we don't quit at LBW.' I tell you what inspiration is.. the people who didn't know him have been inspired by his fight," said coach Helms.
A case in point; just 7 days before his death, T.J. Fleming insisted on being with the team when the Saints played in the southeast regional tournament in Virginia. The team ended up losing in the finals.
"He was sick.. really bad shape. He got to spend 3 days with us. He wanted to be with his teammates," said Helms.
T.J. Fleming not only had potential to play college ball but also beyond. He had the desire and the work ethic.
"225 pounds. Strong kid who could catch and throw," said Helms.
Back from the trip to Virginia, T.J. Fleming died at home in Florala surrounded by his family. Weakened by cancer Fleming remained strong to the end, we're told, inspiring strangers and those who knew him the virtue of not giving up.
Fleming's memorial service was held today at the Florala High School gym.