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Originally published Tuesday, April 15, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Size of his heart sets 4-foot-3 Kent-Meridian athlete apart

Measure him by his heart and passion. Size him up by his effort and persistence. Whatever you do, don't sell Brody Leach short simply because...

Seattle Times staff reporter

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KENT — Measure him by his heart and passion. Size him up by his effort and persistence.

Whatever you do, don't sell Brody Leach short simply because of his stature. He's a little person, just 4 feet, 3 inches tall. But the Kent-Meridian High School junior sports a long list of attributes that endear him to friends and foes alike on the golf course and baseball field.

"All kids should play with the size of heart he plays with," Kentwood baseball coach Jon Aarstad said.

Leach plays varsity golf and baseball for the Royals and regularly draws praise for his attitude and work ethic.

"He's got the best attitude in the program, to be honest," baseball coach Todd Moser said.

Leach can play, too.

He can drive a golf ball with many of the big boys, sometimes hitting 250 yards. He is a middle reliever on the baseball team who can also catch, and is developing a nasty knuckleball that could earn him a spot in the starting rotation next spring. He even played on K-M's freshman basketball team, despite his lack of size and speed.

Sports have been his passion for as long as he and his mom can remember. His apartment bedroom is covered with posters featuring a variety of Seattle's sports teams, as well as the baseball and golf trophies he has earned.

Ask him to describe himself and you'll get this picture from Brody: "I'm an athlete and I'm a hard worker in school, and when I'm doing anything, I like to hang out. I'm pretty much a laid-back guy."

Although both of his parents are average height and there appears to be no other history of dwarfism in his family, Brody insists he doesn't spend time wondering, "Why me?" or dwell on dreams of being taller.

"I'm not that worried about it," he said with a shrug.

Sure, sometimes it's a hassle trying to reach things on tall shelves, but Brody said he isn't shy about asking for help or, if appropriate, hopping on a counter to help himself.

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His friends and teammates aren't hung up on the size issue either.

"Everyone treats him the same, like they treat everyone else," said baseball teammate Kyle Axtell.

Brody's parents and grandparents are members of Little People of America, but he shows no interest in the national organization or their functions.

"He doesn't like to be identified as a dwarf," said his grandfather, Dick Pilatos, who regularly visits from Oregon. "He doesn't perceive himself as being that way. His self-image is a lot better when he doesn't go to those things [functions]."

Brody's one happy concession to his size is the nickname "Weeman," which he is affectionately called by his buddies. He features the name on his MySpace profile, where his comic side is revealed. While the first photo on his home page shows a diminutive Leach pitching for K-M, he lists himself as "6-1/Athletic" under body type.

Brody's blue eyes generally sparkle and he is quick to show off his dimples, which border the mustache he has grown since seventh grade. Nearly all of his clothes require alterations, and his mother, Amy Leach, often reminds him he needs to learn to sew.

Occasionally, insensitive comments about his size are made at baseball games, where he has been mistaken for the bat boy. His mother said she is generally more bothered than he is.

"He just takes it all in stride," she said.

She remembers a baseball game where the opposing coach pulled all of his outfielders way up when he came to the plate, only to see him smack a two-run single over their heads, one of many proud moments.

She also recalls one of her son's biggest disappointments, when he planned to take a girl to a formal school dance his freshman year. The tux and corsage were already ordered when she called to say she wouldn't be able to go, saying she couldn't afford the dress.

"He was really bummed," Amy Leach said.

Amy Leach is just 5-1, so there's not a huge difference when mother and son stand together. But Brody's father, Casey, who now lives in Port Orchard, is 6-2. Their doctor had no idea Brody would be born with dwarfism and, in fact, didn't detect it at delivery, when Brody arrived at 6 pounds, 6 ounces and 18 inches long. Nurses soon suspected, however, and the Leachs were quickly informed.

"It was a lot to take in," said his mother, who was 25 at the time.

The new parents gleaned as much information as they could from Little People of America, which they shared with doctors and nurses at Children's Hospital, and attended a national convention. Brody dealt with a variety of ear infections and illnesses when he was younger, but is a very healthy teenager who now needs checkups only every other year.

"When we were there two years ago, they said he was one of the best-fit dwarfs they've seen," said Amy, who separated from Casey about 10 years ago.

Brody, who turns 17 at the end of the month, helps see to that by working with weights and staying active in sports, which he says will be a lifetime hobby.

"I probably won't stop playing sports until I'm too old," he said.

Until then, Brody Leach likely will continue measuring up to just about any challenge.

Sandy Ringer: 206-718-1512 or sringer@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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