Courtesy of L.A. Daily NewsRamona Shelburne, Columnist - L.A. Daily News
January 28, 2006
To the crowd at the Skydome that day last September, it looked like Boston's Tony Graffanino had hit a home run to left-center field. So why was Red Sox baserunner Gabe Kapler lying in pain on the ground at second base?
"I thought it was going to be a double, so I was pushing hard around the bases," Kapler explained. "But just as I'm rounding second base, I see it clear the fence. That's when I felt my Achilles' pop."
Boston was permitted to insert pinch-runner Alejandro Machado to complete Kapler's trip around the bases, since Graffanino never passed Kapler.
The play made highlight reels across the country for all the wrong reasons. In that one moment, Kapler's baseball career flashed before his eyes.
Of course, if you're going to suffer a serious injury like that, you might as well do it at full speed, hustling around the bases. That play, despite the unfortunate result, is the quintessential Kapler - hard-nosed, all-out, consequences be damned.
It's how the former standout at Taft [High School] of Woodland Hills always has been, on and off the field. Kapler's wife Lisa says he is up every morning by 6:30 and working business deals by 7.
He's a workout nut, a perfectionist at everything. A zealous multi-tasker.
A regular offseason for Kapler is barely a downshift in intensity from the baseball season. This winter has been no exception. Only this year, his energy has been poured into different things.
"I can't make this injury heal any faster than it's going to heal," he said. "It's forced me to slow down, to let my body rest. But it's blessed me with the opportunity to spend more time with my family and to throw myself into other things, like my foundation."
Kapler and his wife started the Gabe Kapler Foundation in 2004. It is a non-profit dedicated to stopping domestic violence and empowering victims of abuse. The cause is close to their hearts. Lisa was a victim of domestic violence in high school, before she met Gabe.
"He's working around the clock," Lisa Kapler said. "It's a full-time job, what he's doing for the foundation. Every time you see him he's on the computer or on the phone, doing something to fundraise for the foundation."
He also is involved in a custom baseball equipment company, called NV Baseball, along with friends and former baseball players Sam Voita (Granada Hills/Tampa Bay Devil Rays) and John Novak (El Camino Real/Texas Rangers).
Tonight, Kapler will be among 15 athletes being inducted into the Southern California Jewish Sports Hall of Fame at the West Valley Jewish Community Center in Woodland Hills.
"I looked at the injury as the biggest challenge of my career," Kapler said. "I've never had an injury like this. But it's turned this offseason into the best offseason of my career."
Kapler said he's able to hit and throw, but not run at full speed. Barring any setbacks, he expects to be back to top form by late April or early May and has every intention of returning to the Red Sox this season.
The Achilles' injury and his renaissance offseason are just the latest in a line of learning experiences for Kapler.
He lived his lifelong dream of winning a World Series, in 2004 with the Red Sox, then spent the beginning of the following season playing for the Tomiuri Giants in Tokyo, Japan.
The Giants offered a reported one-year, $3 million contract and Kapler and his wife seemed enthused about the idea of playing in another country and traveling with their two young sons, Chase, 6, and Dane, 4.
But soon after he arrived in Japan, Kapler realized how much he had left behind in Boston. At night, he often would go online to check in on the Red Sox.
"I'd follow them over the Internet and it would just break my heart not to be there," he said. "I missed the ring ceremony and I knew all my teammates were there, enjoying the moment of being world champions one more time."
And it didn't help that he struggled to get his bat going against Japanese pitching. In July, he was granted his release and re-signed with the Red Sox.
"At the time, I felt like (playing in Japan) was the right decision for me and my family. But in hindsight, it probably wasn't," Kapler said. "But I wouldn't trade the experience we had in Japan for anything. We learned so much. Japan is an amazing country. It's impeccably clean. I always felt very safe. ... and it was very empowering for my wife. She was able to conquer the Tokyo subway system with two young kids, where the signs are all in Japanese."
But in the end, Kapler missed Boston too much. Especially, Boston in the afterglow of winning its first World Series since 1918.
"Gabe loves the Red Sox more than anything and the fact that we had left Japan and got to come back to Boston was really a miracle," Lisa Kapler said. "The organization and the guys on his team are just his best friends. We knew how lucky we were to find an organization like the Red Sox."
In 2004, Kapler was in right field in the ninth inning of Game 4 as Boston completed its sweep of the Cardinals. He caught the first out of the ninth, a flyball by Scott Rolen.
As soon as he was back in Boston after returning from Japan, all of the joy from that World Series run returned.
"That ball went up and I remember, literally, not having a drop of moisture in my mouth," he said.
When Kapler relives these moments, his voice quickens and fills with emotion.
"I was really trying to savor every moment. To be totally present. ... It was the most magical experience of my baseball career by far," he said. "Nothing even touches the intensity or the nerves. ... Even if the Red Sox win the World Series again, I don't think anything will ever match the intensity of that 2004 team."
Except, of course, the intensity that Kapler brings to everything he does.
Staff Writer Ramona Shelburne's column appears on Saturdays.
She can be reached at (818) 713-3617 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
A SELECT GROUP
Taft of Woodland Hills product Gabe Kapler is one of 17 people being inducted into the Southern California Jewish Sports Hall of Fame tonight at the West Valley Jewish Community Center.
Here is the complete list:
Robert M. Barnes, DPM - Sports Medicine
David Bluthenthal - Basketball
Cindy Bortz-Gould - Skating
Nick Bravin - Fencing
Harold Hal Charnofsky - Baseball
Stan Charnofsky - Baseball
Thelma Tiby Eisen - Baseball
Max Gold - Handball
Gabe Kapler - Baseball
Merton Isaacman - Lawn Bowling
Jim Rome - Media
Donald Sterling - Basketball
Brian Teacher - Tennis
Rachel Wacholder - Volleyball
Lawrence B. Wein - Football
Joel Rubenstein - Pillar of Achievement
Vicki Wolf - Pillar of Achievement Award
For more information on the Gabe Kapler Foundation, please visit www.thekaplerfoundation.org
GABE KAPLER FILE
School: Taft '93, Moorpark College '95
Teams: Texas Rangers, Detroit Tigers, Boston Red Sox, Yomiuri Giants (Japan)
Notable: .271 lifetime batting average, 62 home runs, 290 RBI, 67 steals.
As a member of the World Champion Red Sox of 2004, Kapler batted .272 with six home runs and 33 RBI in 136 games.