PROVO — On the baseball diamond, BYU infielder Brian Hsu can do a little bit of everything.
The slick-fielding senior bats leadoff, is the Cougars’ leading hitter with a .349 average and sports a .992 fielding percentage. Coach Mike Littlewood calls Hsu “the best, by far, first baseman I’ve ever coached.” Hsu has been one of the catalysts in BYU’s jump into the national rankings at No. 25 in the Baseball America poll this week.
Off the field, however, there are certain things Hsu can’t do — like drive a car or go to the movies.
The 6-foot-3, 194-pound native of San Ramon, California, suffers from debilitating seizures that impact his daily life. At times, those seizures throw a curve ball at his baseball career.
Being prone to seizures hasn't stopped Hsu from excelling, but he’s had to learn how to manage his condition. He meets with a neurologist and takes medication, there are times when he asks to be removed from games and he usually takes Mondays off from practice to rest.
For Hsu, baseball is an escape from the challenges that stem from seizures, which can be triggered by lack of sleep, loud noises and bright lights.
“It’s definitely tough. It’s hard to explain but right before one happens, I can definitely tell. But by then, it’s too late to do anything. If my head’s not feeling great, I distance myself from whatever I’m doing. I’ll take deep breaths, close my eyes, stuff like that,” said the soft-spoken Hsu. “That can help prevent it. When I listen to music, I usually keep the volume a lot lower than everyone else does. Throughout high school, I didn’t go to any of the dances, no prom or homecoming. I don't go to movie theaters. I’m a bit behind on movies, to say the least.”
Every day, Littlewood checks on Hsu and asks him how he’s feeling. Hsu has suffered a couple of seizures at BYU, including an incident in the dugout tunnel that resulted in an ambulance arriving to tend to him. Another seizure happened during a team dinner in Arizona.
“It scared everyone,” Littlewood said.
Hsu is grateful for the coaches’ willingness to accommodate him.
“It definitely helps having a coach that understands my limitations. Sometimes I need to skip early morning weights one day to get my sleep that I need,” Hsu said. “Sleep is the biggest thing. If I get my rest, I feel like I can perform with anyone. I don’t have the mental stamina that I used to have or everyone else has. As long as I’m able to have ample time to sleep, eat well and not watch too much TV, then I put myself in a good enough position to perform on the field. I have stay disciplined that way.”
Bright lights and loud noises tend to overstimulate Hsu’s mind and take a toll on him.
“Once it happens, all your muscles are incredibly fatigued and you have a pounding headache. The worst headaches you can imagine,” he said. “All you want to do is sleep. Depending on how bad each one is, certain ones I’ve woken up and the first 20-30 minutes I’m unable to talk. When the ER people ask my name and where I’m from, in my brain, I know the answer but I can’t formulate any words. You’re just discombobulated. After they happen, I’ll sleep the rest of the day and night with a pretty bad headache. It’s hard to sleep with those types of headaches.”
The first time Hsu endured a seizure, it was at his home on Christmas Day of 2011 when he was a sophomore in high school, five days after he turned 16.
“My parents were pretty freaked out, understandably. Before then, I was just a regular guy like everyone else,” Hsu said. “For a while, we thought it was just a freak accident.”
It wasn’t until his junior year of high school that he had another seizure, then he suffered several more over the next couple of years.
Doctors believe that the multiple concussions Hsu sustained in the sports he played in as a youth have led to the seizures.
“I don’t really have any family history with that,” he said. “Those concussions, they’re pretty sure that’s what kickstarted the seizures.”
BYU started recruiting Hsu as he was going into his senior year of high school. Before committing to the Cougars, Hsu told the coaches about his struggle with seizures. The coaching staff extended its full support.
“Because of that support, that was part of the reason I felt comfortable signing here and playing,” Hsu said.
In Littlewood’s estimation, Hsu is talented enough to play baseball at the next level.
“As you watch him go about his business, he does it in such a professional manner. He’s so even-keeled. He doesn’t get stressed on the field,” Littlewood said. “It’s amazing to watch his progression from this freshman who was a little bit timid, to now as a senior — not one thing scares him. He embraces the challenge of going out every day and competing. In my mind, Brian could be a pro guy. He does everything well. He’s athletic, he runs the bases with great instinct. He’s fast. He’s the consummate baseball player.”
Despite that high praise, Hsu, is not planning to pursue a pro career. When this season ends, it's likely that his baseball career will end, too.
“I’m not sure if the pro coaches would be as understanding as coach Littlewood is of my needs or if they want to deal with that at that level,” Hsu said. “Hopefully, I’ll get my degree next year and start making some money.”
Hsu is majoring in Chinese and would like to get work in international business after graduation. His dad, G-Jen, was born in Taiwan and his mom, Helen, was born in Korea. “I know a little bit of Korean (language), too,” he said.
Hsu has acclimated well to BYU though he’s not a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
“I’ve definitely enjoyed it here. I’ve made great friends. Coming in, I didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t know what a Mormon was until coach Littlewood starting recruiting me,” Hsu said. “I tried to have an open mind coming in and I’ve learned a lot. My first weekend here, I went to church for all three hours. I didn’t know it was three hours until after the first hour.”
While Hsu has been successful juggling baseball, school and his medical condition, just before the season began in January, Littlewood wanted some clarity about Hsu’s commitment to the program. There was one spot left on the roster. They met in Littlewood’s office and had a candid conversation.
“I told Brian, ‘We want you here. We can’t be a championship team without you. But you’ve got to make that commitment,'” Littlewood recalled. “There was no wavering at all. He said, ‘I’m ready to go.’ That tells me his commitment level. He loves being around the guys and the guys love being around him. He’s a guy you love to have around.”
“I told him that if he wanted me, I do want to play my senior year here and try to help the team win,” Hsu said of that conversation. “So far, it’s worked out.”
Yes, it’s worked out extremely well for the Cougars, who have posted an overall record of 29-11 and are sitting in first place in the West Coast Conference standings.8 comments on this story
BYU visits Loyola Marymount Thursday for the start of a three-game series.
In addition to his team-best .349 batting average and 51 base hits, Hsu has scored 34 runs and collected 16 RBI.
“As good as so many of our guys have been and how much they’ve stepped up this season, Brian would have to be in the mix for someone who has helped this team achieve what we’ve achieved so far both on the defensive side and the offensive side,” Littlewood said. “He’s one of those guys that I wish were here another four years.”