Chances are, Matt Bruback is one of the few pitchers in professional baseball history who feels grateful about taking a line drive off the knee.
The injury spurred him to create a weighted belt that was originally designed to help baseball players with balance and body awareness, but the Miracle Belt evolved into a product that benefits children with autism and ADHD, improving concentration, focus, and sensory deficits.
Bruback – who was drafted by the Chicago Cubs out of high school in 1997, spent a year at Manatee Community College in Florida and then signed with the Cubs in 1998 – was pitching at Double-A West Tennessee in the Cubs system in 2001 when the fateful liner was struck.
In his second start at that level, Bruback delivered a 91 mph fast ball that was ripped up the middle and drilled his right knee cap. The injury disrupted his balance and pitching rhythm resulting in diminished velocity and a lack of command. Since his lower body wasn’t providing the support and stability needed to stay balanced, Bruback started coming across his body when he pitched causing him to develop biceps tendinitis.
Later, while playing for Bowie Baysox (the Double-A affiliate of the Baltimore Orioles), Bruback placed a 20-pound sandbag on his shoulders while doing leg lifts, which would eventually spark a life changing decision.
“For years, coaches pulled on my uniform to try to get me to feel my balance point to improve mechanics, so I would have better command of my pitches,” Bruback said. “They would tell me, ‘You just need to focus on staying back.’ Coaches can tell you and even show you, but until you feel it yourself, you will not be able to do it. I couldn’t relate to what they were trying to get me to feel, but I suddenly did when I put the sandbag on my shoulders.”
Inspired by what he believed would help improve his mechanics and propel him to live his Major League dream, Bruback created a weighted belt to make him more aware of his body positioning.
“The belt gave me the feeling of being grounded which allowed me to feel my mechanics. Without being able to feel my mechanics and make timely adjustments, it’s difficult to stay consistent on the mound,” Bruback said.
Bruback’s mother, Vickie, crafted the first prototype using material they found at Home Depot. Bruback’s sister, who is a graphic designer, developed a visual design of how the belt would look, and then she created marketing materials to present the product to manufacturing companies.
That is how the concept behind the weighted belt was born. At the time, it was called the Balance Pro Sportbelt™, which was also found to help golfers with body awareness and weight shift.
After the 2006 season, Bruback was a free agent and considering signing with a professional team overseas in either Israel or Italy.
While contemplating his next move, Bruback received a call from Catherine Behan, a San Diego-based therapist who had originally bought the belt to improve her golf game but discovered other therapeutic uses for autistic children who have little or no control of their bodies.
Bruback had a tough decision to make. “Do I continue my professional baseball career and continue working towards my goal to pitch in the majors, or should I focus my energy on helping children with developmental disabilities?” Bruback asked himself.
Therapists at Community Haven saw what they termed “miraculous” benefits from using the belt, so Bruback named it Miracle Belt™. He also added the Sensory Belt™ for larger-sized children, teens and adults.
“With the positive encouragement I received during the conversation with Catherine and the results at Community Haven, the decision was easy to focus my attention on helping the children,” said Bruback, who pitched in the minors for nine seasons. “I love baseball, but essentially I gave up one dream to pursue another, one that will have a lasting impact on children with developmental disabilities. There is no better feeling than helping improve the life of a child.”
The first article on the Miracle Belt was published on Easter Sunday back in 2007 and caught the attention of Drs. Frank and Lisa Lanzisera, who live in Bradenton, Fla. and are the parents of a child with Down Syndrome. The Miracle Belt helped their 10-year-old boy walk for the first time.
"We tried many things over the years to help in our son's development. At 10 years of age he was unable to walk unassisted,” the Lanziseras explained in an email. We knew the problem was his balance.
“After reading about the Miracle Belt™ in the newspaper, we immediately ordered one online. Our son is now walking all around the house without any help. In fact, he constantly surprises us when he just walks into the room,” they added. “We've dreamed of this moment for ten years. So, in our mind, the Miracle Belt truly is a miracle!”
The Miracle Belt and Sensory Belt are being used to treat children with autism, Asperger's syndrome, cerebral palsy, Down syndrome and ADHD, helping them become calmer and more focused. The Miracle Belt was specifically designed for infants and children weighing less than 75 pounds while the Sensory Belt was created for children, teens, and adults weighing more than 75 pounds. The belts have been researched and tested “child safe” under Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA) guidelines.
There was a time when reaching the Major Leagues is what drove Bruback, but now he gets inspired by seeing how the Miracle Belt and Sensory Belt are making a dramatic impact in the lives of children with sensory disorders, and their families who are striving to do whatever they can to help their children.
“The belt centers children. They begin to understand how to use their muscles and learn how to use their body more effectively,” Bruback said. “It is remarkable to me that a line drive off my kneecap 12 years ago has resulted in improving the lives of thousands of children.”