But, oh, did that 12-year-old still want to play.
“When he asked what day it was and we told him, he asked us, ‘Am I able to play on Friday?’ And I just shook my head at him and I’m like, ‘Sorry, buddy. You can’t. We’ve got to get you better, first,’” Easton’s father, Jace Oliverson, told CNN Thursday.
“And the sheer tears he was shedding was just, it was, oh my gosh.”
That Easton is alive is nevertheless a victory that his family – along with the Little League community and well-wishers around the world – is celebrating.
Easton, of Utah’s Snow Canyon Little League, still will be in a children’s hospital when his team, representing the Mountain Region, plays a club from Tennessee at 3 p.m. ET in Williamsport, Pennsylvania.
After his team earned a trip to Williamsport by winning a regional championship in California, Easton fell early Monday from a bunk bed at the players’ dormitory and fractured his skull. He had fallen in his sleep, the St. George News in Utah reported, citing a source within the team.
Easton was airflifted to a local children’s hospital. His father, an assistant coach for the team, awoke around 1:30 a.m. to the news and soon learned his son was “fighting for his life,” the dad said.
“Doctors (were) saying he’s 30 minutes, max, from dying, with so much pressure on his brain stem,” Jace Oliverson told CNN.
“There are some children that arrive in a very, very poor state, and Easton’s state upon arrival was among the poorest I’ve seen,” Dr. Frank Maffei, chair of pediatrics at Geisinger Janet Weis Children’s Hospital in Danville, Pennsylvania, said.
Easton underwent surgery to stop bleeding and stabilize him, and then was put into a medically induced coma.
His injury made headlines, and support came flooding in. Utah’s Brigham Young University football team and Los Angeles Dodgers right fielder Mookie Betts submitted supportive videos through Instagram for Easton.
Then the news got brighter, documented via an Instagram account – “miraclesfortank,” nodding to his nickname – set up to provide updates on his condition.
An early post said his breathing tube was out and a scan looked promising. By Wednesday, Easton was no longer sedated, waking up more and asking for water, the account announced.
On Thursday, the family announced Easton had been moved out of an intensive care unit, was sitting up in a chair, could feed himself, could take two steps with support and was talking more with his family.
Easton is making “tremendous strides toward recovery and we are expecting him to have a really near complete recovery,” Dr. Oded Goren, who specializes in cerebrovascular and endovascular neurosurgery, said.
Easton’s condition was upgraded to fair on Friday, according to doctors at the hospital.
His father is grateful for the medical care and support and “the prayers that we’ve been receiving across the nation.”
“My wife and I, from the very beginning (knew) the only way that we’re going to get through this is with the love and support and faith and prayers to our heavenly Father. … He is showing people now that miracles do happen,” Jace Oliverson said.
Easton’s younger brother, 10-year-old Brogan, was set to take Easton’s place on the team’s roster for Friday’s game, their father said. The team is the first from Utah to make it to the series in the 75-year history of the tournament.
“We were able to tell Easton about (Brogan promotion), and he cried, and I asked Easton, ‘Are those happy tears or sad tears?’ and he did express both,” Easton’s uncle, Derrick Oliverson, said. “He’s happy for his little brother. (But) he’s so heartbroken. He doesn’t get to participate in something every Little Leaguer dreams of doing.”
It’s not clear how long Easton will stay in the Pennsylvania hospital, his dad said. The family will discuss that with staff at that facility and one in Utah.
The boy still has a lot of physical and mental therapy ahead, the father said.
“It’s still going to be a long road for him,” Jace Oliverson said. “Even though he’s progressed to the point to where he’s cognitively there and he can physically move (and) understand what’s going on, it’s still going to take a lot of time.”
CNN’s Jason Carroll and Carolyn Sung reported from Williamsport; CNN’s Jason Hanna wrote from Atlanta.