This spring seemed destined to be Braydon Leggett’s time to shine.
In Nixa coach Jason Daugherty’s estimation, the Eagles didn’t have a more improved player from a year ago than Leggett. The first couple weeks of practices in March confirmed a growing sentiment in camp that the senior center fielder was on the verge of big things.
“Of all the players, I think Braydon was set to have the biggest breakout year of them all,” Daugherty said. “Braydon has probably the most natural ability of anyone on the team. He is one of the fastest players, has a very strong arm and can hit for average and power. He made adjustments to his swing in the off-season. Those changes led him to looking like a legit offensive weapon. He was launching balls out of the park during practice.”
High praise to be sure, what with Nixa’s senior class boasting five college signees, including NCAA D-I talent in Joe Reid and Ace Akers.
Alas, Leggett lost out on what promised to be the best season of his life, as the COVID-19 pandemic wiped out the spring sports season.
“I was getting stronger and my batting was a whole lot better. During tryouts and (practices), I was hitting balls out pretty easily,” Leggett said. “I just wish I could have seen how well I would have done throughout the season. It’s been really hard not to be able to play this year. I was looking forward to spending one last season with the boys. The bond there was crazy. I think we would have made a State run.”
This isn’t the first cruel loss Leggett has dealt with. He and his older brother, Chris, also a former Nixa outfielder, lost their father, Dave, in October of 2005. He passed away at the age of 34 due to colon cancer.
Chris was 6 years old at the time and Braydon 3. Given their ages, the memories they have of their father are far too few.
“The best memory I have of him is him and I bed-wrestling,” said Chris, a 2017 Nixa grad. “I also remember him playing softball with all his friends and his brother, my uncle Mark, at the Ozark softball fields.”
“I was so young I don’t have much I can remember,” Braydon said. “But it’s cool hearing the stories about him from our uncles and aunts and all his friends.”
Braydon added he can see clearly in pictures of himself and Chris with their father how much they meant to him.
"He had nothing but love for us all the time," Braydon said.
Inherently, Chris and Braydon have grown up displaying countless characteristics that they share with their father. Their similarities are never more evident than when they're on a ball diamond.
Dave played baseball, as well. He was a standout third baseman as a prep at Waynesville in the late 1980s.
“Standing at the plate, Chris is the spitting image of his Dad,” said Wiley Hendrix, who has been the Leggetts’ step-father the past 12 years and served as the public-address announcer at Nixa home games the past three years. “Their batting stances are the same. It's eery."
“My speed came from my Mom and my batting is definitely from my Dad,” Chris said. “I would have loved to play the infield like my Dad. But I’m fast, so I guess (coaches) didn’t want to waste my speed in the infield.”
Chris and Braydon have gained a full sense of the man their father was. Hendrix has been able to tell the boys tales of their father going back to his days at College of the Ozarks. Hendrix and Dave were college roommates and quickly became best friends.
Nothing makes the boys prouder than to hear comparisons between themselves and their father.
"Our Mom and Wiley always say that we remind them of our Dad all the time," Chris said. "That makes us feel good."
"It makes me feel good when they relate stories to us," Braydon said. "Hearing that we are similar people, it makes us feel good because our Dad was always such a great guy."
Following their father's lead, Chris and Braydon are as faithful fans of the Cincinnati Reds, Cleveland Browns and Kentucky Wildcats as one will find in southwest Missouri.
“We were always put in Reds and Browns clothes and it stuck with us,” Braydon said.
“We love Ohio and Kentucky sports,” Chris added. “It comes naturally. It’s always been in our blood, I guess. It’s been rough being a Browns fan because they’ve never been that great. But next year we’re coming up.”
Dave’s rooting interest in the Reds and bespectacled third baseman Chris Sabo, in particular, has left a lasting impact. Soon after Sabo burst upon the scene as the 1988 NL Rookie of The Year, he became Dave’s favorite player. It wasn’t long before Dave was nicknamed Sabo.
The nickname stuck, so much so that some of Dave’s friends weren’t exactly sure of his first name.
It’s no coincidence Dave’s first son was named Chris.
“I was named after Chris Sabo and my license plate says, ‘SABO,’” Chris said. “My Dad was a huge fan of his. He wore 17 when he played softball because Sabo wore number 17. Since my Dad wore that number, that’s why I wore number 17, too.”
When Dave was diagnosed with Stage IV colon cancer and his liver was infected, word was relayed to Sabo. In a letter sent by Dave's friends, they let Sabo know of his most loyal fan in Nixa, MO, and his dire health condition. Sabo responded with a message of his own.
“We have a letter with his signature in our room and the letter says, ‘Get well soon, love Sabo,’” Chris said.
“It’s cool to see that a professional athlete can take time from his busy schedule and send something like that,” Braydon said. “I know it meant a whole lot to our Dad because that was his favorite player of all-time. Getting support from him drove him to keep fighting.”
Dave never got to see his sons play baseball. But Chris and Braydon have felt like he's been there with them every step of the way.
"I pray for him before every game and have his initials on about everything I wear, like my arm sleeve, tape on my wrists and the inside of my hat," Braydon said. "Over the summer last year, I got to play third base just like him. I really felt him with me then."
"I feel his presence all the time," Chris said. "He’s always been there with us."