Thursday, May 26, 2011

MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL: Family Cherishes Debut

NICE WORK: Detroit Tigers pitcher
Charlie Furbush of South Portland [Maine]
pitched3 2⁄3 scoreless innings in his major league
debut Monday against the Tampa Bay Rays.
Furbush earned the win in relief of Phil Coke.
                                                          AP photo
The Portland Press Herald
Appearing in Kennebec Journal
May 25, 2011

His older brother imagined the scene in the bullpen at Comerica Park Monday night: "Hey Furbush, you're in."

Charlie Furbush, wearing No. 49, ran to the mound to make his Major League debut with the Detroit Tigers, setting off a long awaited celebration in South Portland, where the once gangly kid first picked up a baseball.

His outing was the stuff of rookie legend: Furbush, relieving injured starter Phil Coke, earned the win with 32/3 innings of scoreless relief in a 6-3 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays.

II called him (Monday) night. They were spraying champagne all over him in the locker room," said Jon Furbush, Charlie's older brother and head basketball coach at Bates College. "It means a lot. When he was a kid, and I was the older brother, we never used to let him play with us. He wasn't good enough. We kind of picked on him and he was so motivated to get better. He's never been complacent at any level. To see how much he's matured? He's come such a long way."

Furbush came in with runners on the corners, and just one out. He walked his first batter, loading the bases.

Furbush struck out the next two batters to get out of the inning, and went on to give up two hits, in 32/3 scoreless innings of relief.

Jon Furbush, who was returning from a recruiting trip, watched on his cell phone in the car on the Major League Baseball television application he just purchased after his brother was recalled to Detroit from Triple-A Toledo on Saturday morning.

"It was probably the best thing that could've happened to not have 10 minutes to warm up," said Jon Furbush. "The guy went down, they say, 'Hey Furbush, you're in.' He just went in there and did what he does. I thought it was great. It immediately tested his character and maturity."

His dad, Craig Furbush, watched on TV with his youngest son, Will Furbush. Jon Furbush joined them for the end of the game.

"It was quite a moment to sort of live through," said Craig Furbush, a schoolteacher in South Portland. "The injury to Coke didn't look like the sort of thing he'd have to leave the ballgame for. The TV camera flashed to the bullpen and you could see Charlie's head bobbing. When the door opened and he stepped out into centerfield, I turned to Will and said 'Oh no.' I thought it would've been one of the hardest things for Charlie to do. His major league debut in these circumstances? No warm-up. Runners on first and third, one out?"

The first batter Furbush walked on a 3-2 pitch, his family thought was a strikeout.

"Will and I just about fell off the couch when the umpire said it was ball four," said Craig Furbush. "But he struck out the next two guys ... It was a very memorable night. A very memorable debut. That's all we wanted, to see his debut."

Furbush, a 6-foot-5 lefty, was no magnet for Division I college recruiters after his career at South Portland High School.

St. Joseph's College coach Will Sanborn recruited him to play for his Division III program on Sebago Lake in Standish.

There, Furbush developed his slider and change-up to add to his fastball, and pitched a summer in the Cape Cod League where he garnered enough attention to transfer to Louisiana State University for his junior season.

Following his junior year of college, and only year at LSU, Furbush was drafted by the Tigers in the fourth round in 2007.
"Who the heck goes to St. Joe's and thinks they're going to come out and be a major league baseball player?" said Andrew Wood, Furbush's longtime friend, roommate and catcher at St. Joe's. "It was just unbelievable sitting there and seeing your best friend come across the screen. You're trying to feel how he feels, that stuff doesn't get to him."

Wood, who has caught for Furbush since the pair was 8-years-old, spoke to his friend Tuesday afternoon to relive the moment.

"He said he had no time to warm up, ran out on the field," Wood said. "He said he didn't want to hold up the game so he took about seven warm-up pitches and was like 'All right, let's go.' "

Furbush made SportsCenter this morning.

The headline in the Detroit News read: "Rookie Charlie Furbush stellar in relief, Tigers beat Rays."

Kevin Rand, the Tigers' head athletic trainer who is from Cape Elizabeth, said he was inside the clubhouse with Coke when Furbush first took the mound.

The two had talked considerably at spring training, but didn't get to talk Monday night.

"I'm sure his heart was pounding pretty good. After all, it's his major league debut," said Rand, who is in his 19th major league season. "Sometimes that's not a bad way ... he was in the bullpen relaxing and all of a sudden he's getting called into the game because of an injury.

"He did a great job. He got out of a bases-loaded situation, pitched well and did a nice job. I was very pleased for him."

Furbush has spent the last four summers in the Tigers farm system, taking a year off to recover from Tommy John surgery in 2008.

He was originally projected to be recalled when the Tigers were in need of a left-handed starter. He had gone 4-3 with a 2.91 ERA and 55 strikeouts in 461/3 innings for Triple-A Toledo, when he was recalled to replace reliever Brad Thomas on the 15-day disabled list.

Tuesday, his first Tigers box score read: Win-Furbush, 1-0.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Case Against Roger Maris*

                                                   Associated Press
From left, Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle in 1961.

Wall Street Journal
May 25, 2011

Fifty years ago this spring, American sports fans were fixated on two Yankee outfielders, Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris, as they pursued what seemed to be the most unassailable record in baseball, Babe Ruth's 60 home runs in 1927.

No achievement in sports since then has captured the public's imagination like Mantle's and Maris's assaults on Ruth. Only Henry Aaron's surpassing the Babe's career record of 714 home runs in 1974 approached the frenzy that surrounded Mantle and Maris in 1961. But it was not quite the same thing, since it was merely a matter of time before Hammerin' Hank set the new record. In 1961, there were two questions: "Can they both do it?" and, if not, "Which one is more likely to do it?"

Mantle, a three-time American League home-run champion who had hit 52 home runs in 1956, was regarded as the more likely. Maris was a comparative upstart, having come to the Yankees in a trade with the Kansas City Athletics two years earlier. For 10 years, Yankee fans booed Mantle for not being Joe DiMaggio; in 1961, they booed Roger Maris for not being Mickey Mantle.

Mantle, who finished with 54 home runs, spent the end of the season in the hospital with an abscessed hip; Maris broke the record on the last day of the 162-game season, eight games more than Ruth had in 1927.

Since then, a mountain of myth has grown up around Maris, beginning with the notion that it was "watered down pitching" from expansion that helped him break the record. (In fact, the AL batting average for 1961 was .256, exactly the same as the previous year.) Or that it was Yankee Stadium's "friendly"—that is, short—right field porch that gave Maris an unfair advantage. In fact, he only hit 30 of his 61 home runs that year out of Yankee Stadium.

The biggest myth of all regarding Maris is "The Asterisk." As Maris closed in on Ruth, the Commissioner of Baseball, Ford Frick, who had been a close friend of the late Bambino, suggested that some kind of qualifier would be needed if Maris didn't break the record in 154 games. Dick Young, the controversial columnist for the New York Daily News, argued that an asterisk would be appropriate next to Maris's name in the record book should he surpass Ruth in the last eight games, which is exactly what he did. As every baseball fans knows, Maris got an asterisk in the record books.

Except he didn't. In his 1973 autobiography, "Games, Asterisks, and People," Frick confirmed that "No asterisk has appeared in the official record in connection with that accomplishment." In a bizarre postscript to the asterisk story, in 1991 a committee put together by Commissioner Fay Vincent voted to remove the asterisk, thus solidifying in the minds of many the idea that it had indeed once existed.

Every decade or so since Maris broke the record, his supporters have raised a clamor that he should be voted into the Hall of Fame. The movement gained momentum in 2001 with "61*," Billy Crystal's hugely popular TV movie about the home-run race starring Thomas Jane as Mantle and Barry Pepper as Maris. (The film will be released on Blu-ray in June.)

Maris's name appeared on the ballot for 15 years, but he didn't receive the required votes needed to be inducted. Mr. Crystal's film, though, sparked new interest, and in 2003 Maris's name resurfaced on the Veteran's Committee ballet. Since then, Maris, who died in 1985 of Hodgkin's lymphoma, has failed to be elected by the Veteran's Committee.

According to Phil Pepe, author of the new book "1961*: The Inside Story of the Maris-Mantle Home Run Chase," it's likely "that Maris' chances of being elected to the Hall of Fame have come and gone." And yet, as Maris's achievement hits the half-century mark, the chorus has begun again.

Recently on, veteran sportswriter Robert Lipsyte expressed anger over "the press box hacks who vote on the Hall of Fame [and] have never handed him the golden ticket in." Bob Costas, a longtime supporter, feels that "while his overall career stats are short of the general standard, he was a two-time MVP, played on seven pennant winners, and is a much more significant part of the game's history than dozens of Hall of Famers."

Mr. Pepe, a past president of the Baseball Writers Association of America, says that, "I've never voted for Roger for the Hall of Fame. What he did in 1961 was spectacular, but his overall career was not great. Still, the only players to surpass his record"—meaning Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa—"have well-known connections to steroids, so Maris's achievement looks better every year."

He's right, but the argument against Maris is also persuasive. He hit just 275 career home runs over 12 seasons, only two of which were remarkable—1960, when he hit 39 home runs, and 1961. It's true that Maris was awarded the MVPs for those years, but former Atlanta Braves outfielder Dale Murphy, who hit 398 home runs and also won two MVP awards over the span of an 18-year career, isn't in the Hall of Fame either.

It's also true that baseball analysts believe that Mantle, not Maris, should have been the American League's MVP in both 1960 and 1961.

But give Mr. Costas the last word: "I understand the argument against putting Roger into the Hall of Fame. But I think there are rare special cases, and Roger Maris is at the top of the list."

Mr. Barra writes about sports for the Wall Street Journal.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Who is that Silhouetted Man?

By Paul Lukas, ESPN Page 2
November 21, 2008

You'd think something that happened only 40 years ago wouldn't be too difficult to document and verify, especially in the world of Major League Baseball, which tracks statistics back to the 1800s. But that appears to be the situation regarding baseball's silhouetted batter logo, whose background continues to confound.

A quick recap: Two weeks ago I ran a column about Jerry Dior, who appears to be the man who designed the logo in 1968 (MLB officials have declined to confirm this, but all signs point to Dior). In an interview that appeared in that column, Dior debunked the persistent myth that the logo was based on a photo of Harmon Killebrew -- a claim I've seen repeated everywhere from message boards to MLB game broadcasts. "It's not any specific person," Dior said. "I did a couple of variations based on [magazine] photographs I had. It was sort of composite of what I had in front of me."

After that column ran, several readers sent me notes insisting the logo was based on Killebrew. None of them provided any supporting evidence, so I didn't pay them much mind. But then I got a communiqué from baseball historian Maxwell Kates, who checked in with the following:

"I spoke to Harmon Killebrew at an old-timers' dinner in Toronto a few years ago. I asked him about the logo controversy and he claimed that he was indeed the inspiration for the logo. He signed a 1963 Twins yearbook for me, and his image on the cover bears an uncanny resemblance to the MLB logo."

Hmmmm. The yearbook in question is this one. That's Killebrew on the cover, and sure enough, if you reverse the image, you get something that looks a lot like the logo.

The problem is that the yearbook image is hardly unique in this regard. Take this photo of Joe Torre, for example -- reverse it and bingo, there's the source for your logo, arguably even a closer match than the Killebrew image.

And once you start looking, it turns out the logo could be based on almost any hitter with a fairly traditional batting stance, including Tony Gonzalez, Ron Blomberg, Tony Conigliaro, Rusty Staub, Johnny Bench, Dick Allen, Reggie Smith, Hank Aaron, Rick Monday, Orlando Cepeda, Jose Cruz, Reggie Jackson, Rich Rollins, Von Joshua, and countless more. Yes, many of those photos should be disqualified because they were taken after 1968, but that just reinforces the point that the logo could be based on any player from any era.

So how did the Killebrew connection become such an enduring part of the logo's lore? I tracked down Killebrew, who now runs a charitable foundation in Arizona, and asked him that myself. Here's what he told me:

"I was in the commissioner's office one day in the late 1960s. I can't remember the specifics, but I think it had something to do with a litho they were doing for the National Kidney Foundation. Anyway, I walked through the back part of the office, and there was a man sitting at a table. He had a photograph of me in a hitting position, and he had one of those grease pencils that you see at a newspaper, and he was marking that thing up. I said, 'What are you doing with that?' and he said they were going to make a new Major League Baseball logo. I never thought any more about it. And then the logo came out and it did look like me. The only change was the angle of the bat -- they changed that to kind of make it fit more into the design."

Killebrew (who stresses that he's never requested or expected any monetary compensation regarding the logo) didn't get the name of the guy marking up his photo, and he never asked for or received any confirmation that the logo was based on him. The closest he came was in a conversation with former commish Bowie Kuhn shortly before Kuhn's death in 2007. Kuhn wasn't yet commissioner in 1968 (his term started in February 1969, after the logo had already been created), but he was working in the commissioner's office at the time and was actually on the selection committee that chose Dior's design.

"Bowie and I were always close," says Killebrew. "So just before he died, I asked him about that time I was up in the commissioner's office, because I'd like it to be on the record for my children and for posterity. But he was fading pretty badly, and he said, 'As much as I like you, Harmon, your recollections are a lot better than mine right now. I'd like to confirm that for you, but I can't remember.'"

So who was the guy with the grease pencil -- could it have been Jerry Dior?

Nope. "I've never been in the commissioner's office," he says. "I wish I had -- that would be nice. But all the work I did on the logo was at the offices of Sandgren & Murtha [the marketing company where Dior worked at the time]." And is it possible that one of the photos he used to create the silhouetted batter could have been a shot of Killebrew? "It could have been, but it would have been bastardized, because there were several photographs that I kept altering. I wish I could say to Harmon that it's him, but I can't."

Dior and Killebrew have now spoken. Each man agrees that the other sounds like a gracious, honorable person who's telling the truth. Each one is also sticking to his story: Dior knows how he designed the logo, and Killebrew knows what he saw that day in the commissioner's office. Of course, these two positions aren't mutually exclusive -- the guy marking up the Killebrew photo could simply have been working on a logo project that never came to fruition, and the logo looks as much like Killebrew as it looks like any other player, so he simply put two and two together and assumed the logo was created by the guy he'd seen marking up his photo.

But wait, it gets better: In a bizarre coincidence, it turns out there is a logo that's definitely based on Killebrew -- this one. It's the logo of the Major League Baseball Players Alumni Association, which was founded in 1982 by a group of former Washington- and Baltimore-area players, including Jim Hannan, who's now the group's chairman.

"Back when we were getting started, Major League Baseball tried to help us with creating a logo," Hannan recalls. "But we didn't really like what they came up with, so we asked a local graphic artist named James Walczy to work on it. He came back with the sequence of the three silhouettes showing the progression of a swing and said they were based on photos of Harmon. That was perfect for us, because Harmon was very involved in the Alumni Association at the time. So I said to Harmon, 'By the way, we've got our logo, and it's you.' He said that was great, and he mentioned that he was also the source of the Major League Baseball logo."

The Alumni Association logo certainly matches up with photos of Killebrew's swing. But again, couldn't we swap in photos of many other players and come up with similar results? James Walczy, the designer who created the Alumni logo, thinks so. "We were looking through several baseball books that we could use for visual reference, and one of them had the sequence showing Harmon's swing, which is what we ended up using," he confirms. "But really, it could have been anybody. In fact, we actually trimmed down his silhouette, because Harmon was a little stocky. If you look at the logo, it's more of a Hank Aaron-type body than a Harmon Killebrew body."

And did anyone tell him Killebrew might also be the basis of the MLB logo? "I guess someone may have mentioned that to me," says Walczy, who runs a Maryland-based ad agency these days. "But you're talking about silhouettes here -- there's no definition of facial features or anything, and the MLB design just shows the batter from the chest up, so I'd think it could be anyone. Even my design for the Alumni Association, I bet you could put that in front of 100 baseball fans and nobody would know it was Harmon Killebrew. And it wasn't supposed to look like him -- it was supposed to represent any player and all players."

So the notion of Harmon Killebrew being the inspiration for the MLB logo appears to have originated with Killebrew himself, who sincerely believes his photo was the basis of the design. He's repeated this claim over the years to numerous parties, including Jim Hannan and Maxwell Kates (although he's never gone on the record with a reporter until now), and those people have in turn passed it on other people. Along the way the story has become part of the logo's lore, its unofficial oral history, even though Jerry Dior says it isn't true.

And what does Killebrew say now that he's spoken to the logo's designer? "I don't know. All I know is what I saw. I don't want to say I don't believe Jerry, but it was a long time ago -- maybe his memory isn't good either."

As for Dior, he's philosophical about the whole thing. "The Harmon Killebrew myth has been around a long time now, so I think it will live on," he says. "And I don't mind. Actually, I think it's kind of nice."

(Special thanks to Steve Dewing's incredible collection of 1960s and '70s baseball photos, which was the source of the images for the photo/logo comparisons.)

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Remembering Killer Killebrew: A Fan’s View

By Glenn Vallach, Yahoo! Contributor Network
May 17, 2011
This article was produced by a Yahoo! Sports user.

Everyone has romantic reminiscences of their childhoods, and if you were a baseball fan growing up in the 1960s, you had your choice of icons and legends to follow.
Principally, my hero was Mickey Mantle, which I understand is a fairly crowded bandwagon. He was everything all kids who loved baseball wanted to be—powerful like Hercules, fast like a rocket, as graceful as a dancer in the field until injuries lopped off some brilliance in his later years. I, and many, many others from that era, learned how to switch hit because Mick was a switch hitter.
As a studious observer of baseball, even at that early age, I became a fairly sophisticated connoisseur of every facet of the game and all the teams that engaged in them. And, for a reason I cannot trace, one of those teams and one of those players was the Minnesota Twins and Harmon Killebrew. I followed his exploits in the newspaper daily. In an age when these stars were on display infrequently on television, I watched for Killebrew fervently.
I can recall many a summertime wiffle ball game at my family's lake house in which the pretend participants were the Detroit Tigers and those Twins. As such, I learned, and can easily repeat today, the batting stances and styles of Harmon Killebrew, Tony Oliva, Bob Allison (another personal favorite), Zoilo Versailles, and Rod Carew from the Twins and Norm Cash, Al Kaline, Bill Freehan and many others on the Tigers.
Perhaps the attraction emerged because of Killebrew's sheer power. I remember considering him a kind of clone of Mickey Mantle, maybe a Mickey-lite even though Killebrew actually hit more career home runs than Mantle. I guess it's one of the elusive vagaries of life, such a curiosity about a ballplayer more than half way across the country.
Now he's gone, along with so many others from era. Each time, a little of me dies with them.
I have been a New York Mets fan since foolishly abandoning the might Yankees in my youth after Mickey Mantle retired. Since the fond, fleeting memories of the Tom Seaver, Cleon Jones, Tommie Agee years, I sit quietly yearning for a fraction of the success enjoyed annually by the team that inhabits the borough in which I was born—waiting and hoping—waiting and hoping.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Killebrew Announcement Elicits Memories of '68

The Number 3 jersey of former Minnesota Twins Hall
of Fame baseball player Harmon Killebrew hangs in the
Twins' dugout Friday. (Photo by Jim Moore/AP)

By Paul Kennedy
May 14, 2011
Fox Sports Florida

Harmon Killebrew announced his Long Goodbye yesterday, a stout slugger and baseball hero to a generation, now taken down by esophageal cancer. The fight nearly done, bidding my boyhood farewell from hospice.

The year was 1968, one unlike any other Washington, D.C., or this teenager at the time, had ever seen. Marshall Law had been declared in our capital that April morning, mere days after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the spilling anger of the streets.

The response was troop carriers, choppers overhead, and armed soldiers on foot patrol. It looked like Viet Nam and Tet, mere months earlier.

My Dad and I were just going to see a baseball game. The Presidential Opener at D.C. Stadium. Killebrew and the Minnesota Twins. Frank Howard and the Washington Senators.

President Lyndon Johnson was determined — in a show of force and demonstrated security — the game would be played.

My career military father took me out of school and off we drove, through the green clad soldiers to the green fresh grass of a brand new Major League season.

Vice President Hubert Humphrey, a Minnesotan, would throw out the ceremonial first pitch. And there he was, surrounded by more than 32,000 fans, including a kid and his Dad with centerfield seats who saw it all.

Babe Ruth once wore number 3. Killebrew, too, had number 3 across his strapping back that day and throughout his Hall of Fame career. A bull of a man, sledge-hammering batting practice pitches. And 500 feet away in upper deck awe, a 14 year old discerned greatness.

Before steroids and a rabble of impostors shattered the purity of statistics, the pantheon of slugging greats were America's sporting heroes. Ruth, Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Frank Robinson, and Killebrew. Harmon belted, launched, blasted, crushed, jacked, and slammed 573 home runs, the last of which came 40 years ago this August.

If you don't think four decades can go by in the blink of an eye, wait. Just wait.

Long before cable networks and joined-in-progress cut ins, there were few nightly highlights on the news from coast-to-coast. You either saw the Saturday Game of the Week, scored a ticket and witnessed the immortals walk the diamond in person, or you grabbed the morning newspaper at the breakfast table and delved into the box scores.

I found the one for this day on-line. Reading the names and scanning through the lyrical innings of five decades past, this was a Shakespearean play returning to life.

The hurlers were among the Glory of Their Times. Two 20-game aces in their prime, Dean Chance and Camilio Pascual drew the start. In the 6th, Harmon crushed his first home run of the season deep to left off Pascual, a regal Cuban and longtime Killebrew teammate with the old Senators and in the Twin Cities before returning to D.C.

That blast would be the only one Killebrew's club needed. Chance went the distance with a four hit shutout, fanning eight without issuing a walk. Brilliant, yes, but all I remembered was Killebrew. His power and presence.

There was Tony O and Hondo, Tony Oliva and Howard. Bob Allison and Mike Epstein. A 2-0 finish. A game that took but 2:02 to play. A season to come. Many years ahead for all.

Except for my Dad, now in Arlington National Cemetery. That would be our last Presidential Opener together, for he died in August. Every spring, when the Boys of Summer return, I think of him, of Harmon Killebrew, of 1968. And now Harmon is leaving, too.

Killebrew had blasted 44 home runs in the Summer of Love in '67. He would reign as the American League MVP a year later in baseball's centennial of '69. Ironically, as it was for all of this nation, 1968 was filled with problems.

Named to an eighth All-Star game, this the first to be played indoors in the Astrodome, Harmon ruptured a hamstring on the carpet. He'd need seven months of rehabilitation and would finish the season with only 17 home runs.

When I saw him again in D.C., again from afar at the '69 All-Star game, it was in the re-christened Robert F. Kennedy Stadium. For you see, America had lost another leader. Those were the times.

Killebrew and Twins would later move into a domed home in the chill of the upper Midwest, named for their senior senator who threw out the pitch that day and would lose that autumn's presidential election.

And for the coming generation, the Twin Cities team would continue to hold spring training in Orlando. At Tinker Field, build in honor of the Cubs immortal shortstop, Joe, who adopted Central Florida after leaving Evers and Chance.

The kid in the centerfield seats, by the way, loved stadiums and the roar of crowds so much he became a broadcaster. Orlando is now his home, not far from that ballpark.

Many of the sunny snapshots of Harmon and talented Minnesota teams were taken at Tinker. You can pick 'em out instantly. The Twins have long since moved on, and grandstand and diamond now are mostly quiet and sun drenched.

Occasionally a high school contest or adult league fun-in-the-sun game requiring chalk lines to be drawn and the infield attended. There, too, with the birds and the sky is a granite bust of legendary Twins owner Clark Griffith still on display, just inside the unlocked gates.

It is a good place to say goodbye, to the promise of spring, the heroes of our youth, and a boyhood that once crossed paths with a slugger named honest Harmon Killebrew.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

MLB to Honor Heroes in Civil Rights Game

By Alden Gonzalez /

After months of painstaking planning by Major League Baseball, the 2011 Civil Rights Game is finally just around the corner.

"I'm ecstatic," said MLB executive vice president of baseball development Jimmie Lee Solomon, the man hoping to ensure the city of Atlanta feels the same way.

Henry Aaron
The fifth annual Delta Civil Rights Game will take place on Sunday at Turner Field, pairing the Phillies and Braves, two teams with superstar African-American players at a time when there aren't many, in a city once regarded as the cradle of the civil rights movement.

But Sunday's celebratory game is merely the culmination. Much more will take place before then.

As part of its yearly effort to pay tribute to those who fought for equal rights, both on the field and off, MLB will stage a roundtable discussion that will touch on key social issues, an interactive youth summit, a Beacon Awards banquet, a Saturday game paying tribute to the Negro Leagues and a concert put on by one of the most famous rappers to come out of Atlanta.

Then, finally, for the first time on a Sunday, baseball will host the ever-evolving Civil Rights Game.

"We've done a lot," Solomon said. "And I think this is just growing and growing and growing."

But Solomon wanted even more growth. He wanted to initially stage two new events in the days leading up to the game: a two-day Bud Selig Business Conference that would promote workforce diversity and a red-carpet screening of the documentary "Hank Aaron: Chasing the Dream" at the Fox Theatre.

In the end, Solomon felt perhaps they were being a little "overambitious," and decided to limit the schedule to make sure they got the most out of each event.

"We were being very ambitious this year," Solomon said. "And I think that, in the end, maybe we wanted to make sure we were successful, instead of kind of sure that the whole thing would be successful."

But there will still be plenty to keep the city of Atlanta busy this week.

Ernie Banks
Events will kick off with the Baseball and the Civil Rights Movement Roundtable Discussion at Ebenezer Baptist Church on Friday, May 13. The forum, moderated by Harvard Law School professor Charles Ogletree, will kick off at 3 p.m. ET and is open to the public.

On the panel will be singer Gloria Gaynor, activist Dolores Huerta, Angels owner Arte Moreno and National Urban League executive director Marc Morial.

Also taking part will be United Farms Worker co-founder Dolores Huerta, MLB vice president of youth and facility development Darrell Miller and U.S. Army Brigadier Gen. Bryan Roberts.

The discussion will air live on at noon ET, and fans who want to ask the panel questions can do so by e-mailing them to

Morgan Freeman
At 9 a.m. on Saturday at Centennial Olympic Park, kids can attend a free event that will give them the opportunity to take part in baseball and softball clinics with Major League players, followed by a Q&A discussion and a parade to Turner Field.

To Solomon, that Youth Summit, presented by Army/"Wanna Play?", "brings the most joy to my heart."

"When you have all those kids running around," Solomon said, "and baseball is the catalyst, baseball is the lynchpin of their fun, and many kids receive free gloves, free caps [and] T-shirts [and] they interact with baseball players [and] local celebrities, it's just a real fun event."

That afternoon's 1:10 p.m. ET game between the Phillies and Braves will celebrate the Negro Leagues, which folded shortly after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947. Commemorative videos will be played, former Negro League players will be on the field and the Phillies and Braves will play in replicas of their respective cities' Negro League uniforms.

Carlos Santana

Ludacris, one of Atlanta's proudest sons, will then perform a free postgame concert with a still-unannounced guest. Later that night, at 7 p.m. at the Omni Hotel Grand Ballroom, the MLB Beacon Awards Banquet, presented by Belk, will take place.

There, Hall of Famer and Cubs legend Ernie Banks (Beacon of Life), Academy Award-winning Actor Morgan Freeman (Beacon of Hope) and Grammy Award-winning artist Carlos Santana (Beacon of Change) will be honored.

Rev. Jesse Jackson, Rev. Al Sharpton, former Cy Young Award winner Don Newcombe and entertainer Harry Belafonte will serve as presenters. And Braves legend Hank Aaron along with five "Freedom Riders" -- civil rights activists who rode buses into segregated southern cities to test the U.S. Supreme Court 
decision Boynton v. Virginia -- will be honored.

Then, on Sunday, the Civil Rights Game will take place at 1:35 p.m. ET, airing on TBS.

The contest will honor the Beacon Award winners on-field, will have teams sporting replica 1974 uniforms and will carry the torch of honoring baseball's impact in civil rights, a concept that began as an exhibition in Memphis from 2007-08, then worked its way into the regular-season schedule in Cincinnati from 2009-10 and is now in Atlanta for the next couple of seasons.

That Ryan Howard, Jason Heyward and Jimmy Rollins will be there to celebrate it is just icing on the cake.

"There are a lot of things that are good that are going on to curb the decline of African-American players," Solomon said. "I think that bringing in these two teams that happen to have superstars of African-American heritage on either side of the field -- I think it's a great way to show African-American kids there is a place for them in Major League Baseball."

Tickets for the Civil Rights Game and preceding events can be purchased at, with proceeds being donated to the Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial Project Foundation, which is building a memorial near the Jefferson and Lincoln memorials in Washington, D.C.

Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for

Friday, May 13, 2011

Wounded Troops Return to the Ballfield

Members of the Wounded Warrior Amputee Softball Team and a team of personnel from Walter Reed Army Medical Center listen to the national anthem before a game May 7 at the Forest Glen Annex in Silver Springs, Maryland.  [Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post]

By David Nakamura,
Washington Post
May 7, 2011

The soldiers and Marines on the Wounded Warrior Amputee Softball Team display a sense of humor that helps put at ease fans who might otherwise feel awkward watching them.

The 20 men, most of whom have lost limbs on missions in Iraq and Afghanistan, nicknamed themselves the “Body Parts.” Three players with prosthetic legs volunteer to “take a knee” during a team photo. When a player missing his left arm reaches second base, an assistant coach yells that there is “a runner with legs in scoring position.”

“You won’t hear that on any other team,” says outfielder Brian Taylor, who lost his right leg below the knee.

This weekend, the Body Parts opened a national tour of exhibition games by routing a team from the FBI 35-10 on Friday night at George Mason University. On Saturday afternoon, they came back to earth a bit, losing to staffers from Walter Reed Army Medical Center, 18-5, at the Forest Glen Annex. On Sunday, they will be in Annapolis to face a team of players from the U.S. Naval Academy’s sailing team.

Although the amputee squad is not looking for sympathy, Saturday’s final score was greeted with a shrug by the players and the crowd. The playing is the thing — the soldiers were all gifted high school athletes who thought they might never have a chance to compete again.
Soldiers and Marines who lost limbs on missions in
Iraq and Afghanistan prove that their athletic talent has
survived their injuries. [Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post]
Now, wearing prosthetic devices strapped to the stumps on their arms and legs, they are fielding, throwing and hitting once more.

“I didn’t know what to expect,” said Army Sgt. Matthew Kinsey, who stepped on a land mine while on night patrol in Afghanistan 11 months ago, blowing off his right foot. He is still going through rehabilitation at Walter Reed, but the rangy shortstop dived for a line drive up the middle Saturday, only to have the ball tick off his glove and dribble into center field for a single.

“It all settled back in pretty quickly,” Kinsey, a star high school player in Rockville, Ind., said of the old athletic rhythms. “I’ve played thousands of games so when I got back on the field, it felt natural.”

The team is the brainchild of David Van Sleet, a prosthetics manager for the U.S. Veterans Affairs Southwest Health Care Network who doubles as the team’s manager. Marrying his professional skills with his lifelong love of softball, Van Sleet put out a nationwide call for amputees to try out for the squad. He didn’t want a bunch of weekend warriors, but rather seasoned players who would be able to compete against fully able-bodied teams.

After culling the couple of hundred applicants, Van Sleet held tryouts in Arizona in March. The competition was intense. One player, who was wearing a prosthetic leg, broke his other leg while swinging hard at a pitch and landing awkwardly.

But Van Sleet pared the squad to the 20 best, including Greg Reynolds, who lost his left arm to the shoulder in a car accident after returning from Iraq, and Josh Wege, who lost both legs below the knee after the Humvee he was riding in struck a makeshift bomb in Iraq.

The pair embody the can-do spirit of the Body Parts. Wege, the only bilateral amputee, is such a good athlete that the Marines have recruited him for the Wounded Warrior Games in Colorado Springs. He will compete in the 100- and 200-yard dashes, basketball and volleyball.

“I didn’t want to be the anchor that holds this team down,” said Wege, who along with Kinsey recently completed a challenging obstacle course at West Point.

Forgoing the curved prosthetic running legs favored by some teammates for a standard walking pair, Wege pitched against the Walter Reed team Saturday and singled to center. He said he chose not to use the running legs because “I want to look as normal as possible.”

Reynolds did, too. With just one arm, he swings the bat across his chest as if he is back-handing a tennis ball. He went 3-for-4 in Friday’s game and doubled to right field on Saturday.

Reynolds and fellow outfielder Nate Lindsey, who lost his right arm below the elbow, compared their fielding techniques during practice. Reynolds caught the ball and then used an underhand scoop to throw it from the webbing to a teammate. Lindsey caught the ball and then flipped it in the air while dropping his glove, catching it again with his bare hand to make the relay throw.

“We’re all soldiers, and we’re all athletes, so when we step on the field we already have that common bond,” said Reynolds, who enlisted in the Army on Sept. 10, 2001, when he was 17.

Although the players profess to be thinking only about the competition while on the field, their relatives can’t help but consider the bigger picture. Watching his son Matthew take the field Friday night, Mark Kinsey said he was overcome with emotion.

“I shed a few tears,” he confessed. “I’m just happy to have him here.”

Carl Erskine's Treasure Chest of Dodgers Lore

The pitcher, one of the Boys of Summer, witnessed plenty of baseball
history and is still living the good life in his Indiana hometown.
Carl Erskine, center, with Duke Snider, left, and Brooklyn Manager Charley… (Associated Press)
By Chris Erskine, Los Angeles Times
May 7, 2011

Along the way, Carl Erskine (no relation) has seen some things. A curveball artisan and one of the famed Boys of Summer, he was in the Dodgers' dugout during Don Larsen's perfect game and shared the bullpen when Ralph Branca was summoned to pitch to Bobby Thomson in what is probably still the most famous bomb of all time.

"People always ask me, 'What's your best pitch?'" Erskine says, a twinkle in his eye. "I tell 'em that's easy. 'It's the curveball I buried in the bullpen that day. Otherwise that could've been me.'"

Yep, along the way, Carl Erskine has seen some things, all right, played along Jackie Robinson and Duke Snider on those beloved Brooklyn teams of the '50s. Pitched a record 14 strikeouts against the Yankees in the 1953 World Series with a four-seam curveball that dropped — bam — like a Bible off a bookshelf.

Came back to his hometown of Anderson to raise four kids and wound up running a local bank. If you detect a bit of Forrest Gump or George Bailey to the old pitcher's life — hey, we're just getting started here.

"My whole life is a story," he says over pancakes and bacon, crisp. "Everything that happens has more to it."

Somebody summon Spielberg, or get Ken Burns on the phone. Because this is an American life full of folk heroes and normal everyday guys who do extraordinary things, against a backdrop of race relations, the early days of television and Walter O'Malley's march west. Erskine's stories are also a touchstone to a simpler era, a time machine to Dodgers glory days that seem pretty far away right now.

But first things first. At 84, Erskine is still living the good life in Anderson: looks fit, nice coloring, shock of white hair — like Lasorda if he lost 300 pounds.

He goes fishing when he can, plays harmonica in a local band called Old Stuff and sounds like a 25-year-old when he tells stories from his treasure chest of Dodgers lore — how the franchise could've fielded Larry Doby and Roberto Clemente but O'Malley and the league thought it was better to diversify, how he collected two bonuses from the notoriously stingy Branch Rickey, after the team signed Erskine illegally and the commissioner ruled that he should go back on the open market.

"Dizzy Dean told his TV audience, 'Hey, I want you to meet someone who deserves to be in the Hall of Fame, because he got Branch Rickey to cough up two bonuses."

Here's the trophy shelf from a 12-year career:

• A 122-78 lifetime record (10 in Brooklyn, two in L.A.).
• A 20-win season in '53, with 16 complete games.
• 11 World Series appearances.
• Two no-hitters.

As usual, the personal stuff trumps the stats. He talks about his friendship with Robinson.

"I told him that not all white people are your enemy," Erskine says. "He said that bigots come in all colors."

"I remember Branch Rickey once told Jackie, 'Look at you. You could whip anybody on this field ... anybody. But are you strong enough not to fight?'"

He talks about playing in pain his entire career after injuring his arm in his first start. "Struck out the batter on a high fastball" — not the famously torquey curve — "and I felt a shot in my arm, like a knife."

Talks about watching Larsen on that incredible afternoon in 1956.

"Same pitcher that day as he was before, routine stuff," he remembers.

And the Thomson home run?

"I've been over that game so many times," he says. "There's still holes in what made [Charlie] Dressen bring in Ralph."

Branca and Erskine were the two choices that day. When Dressen called pitching coach Clyde Sukeforth, he told Dressen that he'd been bouncing his curve.

"Ralph's first pitch was a low fastball," Erskine says. "We all gasped because we all know Thomson was a low fastball hitter.

"He took that first pitch. As they say, it had hair on it."

The next pitch, inside, is the one Thomson turned on, sending it into the left-field seats and winning the pennant for the Giants.

"I think it was fate," Erskine says. "You could've brought in Walter Johnson, you could've brought in anybody … I think it was bound to happen."

When his career was done, Erskine came back to Anderson, 32 years old, four kids, no job, but knowing his family would be able to help.

Roger Kahn's landmark book "The Boys of Summer" poignantly tells the story of Erskine's youngest son, Jimmy, born with Down syndrome.

Today, the dad drops Jimmy off at the local Applebee's for a work shift and notes the parallels he's seen.

"Jackie broke down the social barriers," he says. "Jimmy helped do the same thing with Down syndrome.

"When you got to know Jack, you liked and admired him. Same with Jimmy."

Yep, Carl Erskine has seen some things.

Friday, May 06, 2011

Andre Ethier closing in on a Dodger record: Willie Davis' 31-game hitting streak

Willie Davis' 31-game string of hits is now being
threatened by Andre Ethier. (Los Angeles Dodgers)
In 1969, Davis -- a center fielder known for speed, not power -- put together a string of hits that's now being threatened by Ethier. Davis found the winning formula for the streak by emulating the mechanics of Matty Alou.

By Ben Bolch
Los Angeles Times
May 5, 2011

Pick a renowned slugger from the 1960s and chances are the late Willie Davis tried to emulate him.

Hank Aaron, Ernie Banks, Willie McCovey, the list goes on. Davis even implemented a style that was a cross between the long-retired Mel Ott and Japanese home-run king Sadaharu Oh.

The Dodgers center fielder could imitate them perfectly, former teammate Wes Parker recalled — until the pitch came.

"And then he was Willie Davis," Parker said Thursday.

Davis, whose greatest asset was speed, not power, found a winning formula late in the 1969 season after duplicating the mechanics of Matty Alou, a diminutive spray hitter from the Pittsburgh Pirates. It was this approach that enabled Davis to embark on the Dodgers-record 31-game hitting streak that is being threatened by Andre Ethier.

"If you want to put your finger on one thing, it was that he changed to a batting style that he should have used all his career: choking up on the bat, a short, compact swing and not trying to pull the ball," said Maury Wills, the former Dodgers shortstop.

Davis didn't make much of his burgeoning streak until late August, when he neared the franchise record of 29 games that had been set in 1916 by Zach Wheat of the Brooklyn Robins. The Dodgers were engaged in a heated five-way race in the National League West, but soon there was a dual focus around the organization.

Reporters started asking Davis about the streak before games and Dodgers owner Walter O'Malley, who had given Sandy Koufax $500 for each of his no-hitters and Don Drysdale's wife a string of 56 pearls after the right-hander pitched 56 consecutive scoreless innings, promised to reward Davis handsomely if he broke Tommy Holmes' National League record of hitting safely in 37 consecutive games.

Davis, who was 69 when he died of natural causes in 2010, may have benefited from a break or two along the way. He extended his streak to 27 games with a sharp grounder to Philadelphia's Richie Allen that the first baseman lost from his glove as Davis crossed the bag. The official scorer contemplated the play for several minutes before ruling it a hit.

"Given Willie's speed and the difficulty of the play, I thought it was a hit all the way," said Ross Newhan, the Hall of Fame baseball writer who then covered the Dodgers for The Times.

After tying Wheat's franchise record Sept. 1 with a second-inning to single to center field, Davis received a good-luck telegram from the record-holder the following day before taking the field against the New York Mets at Dodger Stadium. Wheat was then 81 and living in Missouri.

Davis broke the record with a sixth-inning double, bowing his head in response to a standing ovation. But he was more focused afterward on his ninth-inning strikeout that stranded two baserunners during a one-run loss.

He avenged the failure the next day with a ninth-inning double that drove in Wills with the winning run against the New York Mets and stretched his streak to 31 games, the longest in baseball since Dom DiMaggio's 34-game streak in 1949.

The streak ended Sept. 4 when Davis went 0 for 4 against San Diego. He hit .435 during the streak, raising his average from .262 to .316 and winning a legion of admirers by realizing his immense potential.

The Dodgers faded over the final month of the season, finishing fourth in their division. Davis' final batting average was .311, a threshold he never reached again over an 18-year career that included 13 productive seasons with the Dodgers. He still has more hits, extra-base hits, triples, runs scored, at-bats and total bases than any Dodger during their years in Los Angeles starting in 1958.

Still, his former teammates said the fleet-footed outfielder who played in two All-Star games and won three Gold Gloves could have done more.

"He's not in the Hall of Fame and he had as much talent as any Hall of Famer ever," said Parker, who played first base for the Dodgers from 1964-72. "He wasn't satisfied with being a singles hitter. He wanted to hit home runs, and it killed him because it took away his biggest advantage, his speed. He was the fastest man in baseball."

Nevertheless, Wills said he believed Davis wouldn't mind if Ethier took his record this weekend.

"I really feel in my heart," Wills said, "that Willie is pulling for him to break it."

Times researcher Robin Mayper contributed to this report.

Sunday, May 01, 2011

'I'm lucky to be alive'

Although Luis Salazar lost an eye, he remains focused on his second chance at life

When he was young, Luis Salazar's parents often couldn't see him.

Growing up in the small coastal town of Lecheria, Venezuela, Salazar would hurry home from school each afternoon, disappearing through the door and into the house. Hearing his footsteps, his mother would yell out for her son to start his homework. Instead, Salazar would slip outside, escaping down the street to find the nearest ballgame.

"My family would be looking for me and they said, 'Where's Luis?'" Salazar remembered. "And I'd be down the block playing street ball with the other kids."

His teachers often couldn't find him, either, especially at lunchtime. When the other students lined up for lunch, Salazar ran out in search of a game of street ball.

But baseball scouts saw Salazar, especially after one of his teams won the regional championship and Salazar had started in place of the team's injured shortstop. Two months later, the Royals signed the 15-year-old. He arrived in the U.S. in 1973, scared, homesick and unable to speak or understand English. He lasted a month and a half, playing for the Gulf Coast League Royals, before returning home.

A coach from a Caracas team called a few weeks later, telling Salazar that he needed to come to the capital to play winter ball. He'd seen Salazar's potential, he said, and could envision him playing in the major leagues.

Salazar listened. He was signed again -- in 1975 by the Pirates -- and returned to the U.S. in 1976, playing briefly in the minors and then as a utility man in the majors for 13 seasons and four teams before transitioning into coaching.

In early March, the 54-year-old attended spring training in Florida, preparing for his first season as manager for the Lynchburg Hillcats, a high-Class A affiliate of the Atlanta Braves.

His passion for playing baseball has morphed into a love of teaching and seeing his former players break into the big leagues, he said. Salazar loves hitting fungoes before games or standing at the pitching machine, instructing his young players on mechanics and patience at the plate.

AP Photo/David Goldman -- Luis Salazar was back at the
Braves' spring training home two weeks after the incident.
So what did he do when that love almost killed him? When it took away half his vision and threatened to crush his spirit?

'It entered my mind fhat he was dead"
In the first inning of Atlanta's March 9 exhibition game against the St. Louis Cardinals, Salazar stood next to Braves outfielder Nate McLouth along the railing on the first-base side dugout. The two were discussing a play that had just happened at second base, McLouth says, and Salazar motioned toward second as he spoke, looking away from the plate.

Braves catcher Brian McCann, a left-handed hitter, stood at the plate. As Cardinals pitcherKyle Lohse threw a changeup, down and inside, McCann swung.

Salazar said he remembers the ball "felt like a missile." Then everything went black.

McLouth saw the ball -- briefly -- and ducked to his right. (Salazar was on his left.) "We were talking, and then seconds later he was on the ground," McLouth said. "When it hit [his face], it sounded like the ball had gone all the way back to the cement wall."

Braves catcher David Ross was sitting a foot away. "That ball was hit so hard and so fast at such a close distance," Ross remembered. "It hit him [Salazar] and he fell five steps, all the way down. He was knocked out cold."

The baseball, traveling at an estimated 115 mph, struck Salazar on the left side of his face, shattering his bones. Stumbling and falling down the dugout steps facedown, Salazar sustained a concussion from the force of the fall, which also fractured his right arm and shoulder. He lay motionless as blood poured from his nose, eye and mouth.

"It was one of the scariest things I've ever witnessed on a baseball field," Ross said. "For a minute, it entered my mind that he was dead."

AP Photo/Dave Martin -- Braves catcher Brian McCann
visited Luis Salazar several times in the hospital.
Salazar lay unconscious for close to 20 minutes as paramedics rushed him into an ambulance and then a helicopter en route to an Orlando trauma center. Officials decided to continue the game, which the Cardinals won, 6-1. McCann checked himself out of the game and left the field. McLouth said that players on both teams were almost silent.

Baseball seemed so unimportant after that, like I could've cared less about what was going on on the field," Ross said. "I wanted to go home to see my wife and kids and give them a hug. I remember being shaken for a whole day after that. Reality just took a full turn; we could go at any minute. There's no guarantees in life, right?"

Salazar remembers waking up in the hospital, briefly, that night. He couldn't recall what had happened to him and says he "saw a very bright white light." He passed out again and woke up the next day after his first surgery.

I was in a lot of pain," Salazar said. Because of braces placed on his legs to allow for circulation, Salazar had trouble moving and got up only to use the bathroom. His wife, daughter and son visited him in the hospital.

Friends and strangers sent notes or called to offer their support. Messages of encouragement came from around the world from as far as Venezuela and as close as Albert Pujols and Johan Santana in their respective spring training camps.

After almost a week, Salazar said he began to feel better. He also looked in a mirror for the first time.

"I saw my [left] eye, and I knew something very bad had happened," Salazar said. "I still had my eye then, but my face was so swollen, so huge. I didn't recognize myself."

McCann and his wife, Ashley, visited Salazar in the hospital several times.

"Talking with Brian, the first conversation, he [felt] very bad; he almost cried," Salazar said. "I said, 'Don't worry about it; it's an accident. Now, I want you to move on.' He said that was the best news that he ever got."

The two talked for almost three hours during that first visit. They still keep in touch today: McCann said his wife often corresponds with the family through Salazar's daughter, Viviana, who's married to Mariners center fielder Franklin Gutierrez.

Salazar's good friend, Rafael Belliard, a former major leaguer now coaching with the Tigers, stopped by the hospital a few days after the accident.

"The first thing he [said] to me is, 'Rafe, I'm lucky to be alive,'" Belliard said. "He talked to me for about 15 minutes, and he was OK. I was a little shaky at what had happened."

Doctors tried to save Salazar's left eye, but after almost a week they realized they would need to remove it. Salazar's biggest fear wasn't losing his eye -- it was losing his job.

"I thought my career [was] over," Salazar said. "But then I [talked] to the guys at the Braves, and they said, 'No, you gonna be doing what you love: coaching.'"

Although Salazar's wife of 33 years, Graciela, said she never saw him depressed or frustrated during his hospital stay, she shared Luis' concern about his future in baseball.

"I said to the Braves organization, 'I don't want him sitting at home, getting a check every two weeks. I want him doing something.' Because he loves to be out on the field," Graciela said.

'He has no fear'

After a week in the hospital and another week resting at his home in Boca Raton, Fla., Salazar visited the Braves on March 23 at their Orlando spring training home.
Wearing sunglasses, Salazar "was in really good spirits, and you saw how happy he was to be back," McLouth said.

"He has such a passion for baseball," McCann said. "He wanted to get back on the field even when he was in the hospital. He was just thankful for this opportunity again."
After his visit with the team, Salazar began a program at the Braves' Orlando rehabilitation center, where he stayed for almost two weeks under the tutelage of head physical therapist Troy Jones.
In addition to working on the injury to Salazar's arm, Jones said the two focused on balance and depth perception: catching with two hands, one hand, different speeds, changing the size and weight of the ball, as well as everyday tasks like learning how to reach for a cup of water.
Throughout the exercises, Salazar picked up each skill with remarkable speed and poise.
"He's pretty phenomenal as far as how rapidly he gained his depth perception, balance and how quickly he picked up catching and throwing," Jones said. "The first time we had him try fungo work, he was incredible. It was as though he hadn't even missed a step.
"He has no fear -- even from the first day that we went out on the field, he jumped out there like it was another day at the ballpark, with no hesitation. I was a little apprehensive when we first went out and started to throw, but my apprehension disappeared quickly. It was just like tossing a baseball with anyone else."
According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, more than 2.5 million eye injuries occur in the U.S. each year. Approximately 50,000 people permanently lose part or all of their vision. Ninety percent of all eye injuries can be prevented by using protective eyewear (which Salazar now wears), and 14.7 percent of eye injuries occur during sports. Although several coaches and players have been killed by hit baseballs throughout history (well documented in Robert Gorman's book, "Death at the Ballpark"), there are no available statistics that show the number of people who have lost an eye as the result of a baseball.
'This is what I love'
On April 15, Salazar stood before a TV camera on a windy Friday afternoon in Lynchburg, Va., his first day at the Hillcats' helm as they were about to face the Myrtle Beach Pelicans. The stadium sits high above the street, its brick-walled entrance worn with age. (The park was built in 1939.) Looking out from behind home plate, the Blue Ridge Mountains are visible in the distance, a jagged skyline reminiscent of a rapid, steady heartbeat line on a hospital monitor.
Salazar was wearing a blue workout shirt and shorts, and his calves and arms still held the muscle from his playing days. Jones said that Salazar's sturdy build on his compact 5-foot-9 frame had aided his speedy recovery.
Under a baseball cap, Salazar wore a pair of protective shatterproof Oakley glasses -- one of two pairs, he said, he will don during games for protection. Before the accident Salazar had never needed contact lenses or glasses, and he has retained the 20/20 vision in his right eye.
He expects to receive a prosthetic eye as early as mid-May, which his doctors say is ahead of schedule. Until then, he often wears a protective bandage over his left eye socket.
After several interviews, Salazar hit fungoes to his players. He neither flinched at the sound of bat hitting ball nor shied away from baseballs thrown in his direction. Playing catch with Tom Shields, a roving Braves instructor, Salazar laughed and smiled, taking a step back after each throw. He later spoke with Shields about his lingering arm soreness, although he's now thrown a baseball as far as 60 feet.
Approximately 5,170 fans filled City Stadium that evening, the largest crowd in Lynchburg's home opening history. Graciela flew into town for her husband's first homestand and sat several rows behind home plate. Instead of feeling nervous, she said she was happy her husband was back on the field. "It's the place he wants to be," she said.
During the announcement of opening lineups, the Hillcats' staff decided collectively to introduce Salazar last, rather than first (as is customary).
"Luis Salazar would like to thank God and the fans for his second chance at life," the PA announcer read during his lengthy pregame introduction.
AP Photo/Don Petersen -- At Lynchburg,
Luis Salazar plans to coach third base
in addition to his managerial duties.
As Salazar stepped onto the field, the entire crowd stood and cheered. Salazar walked down his lineup of players, shaking hands and fist-bumping. Then he walked over to the Myrtle Beach side, shaking hands with their players as well. After the national anthem, after the pronouncement of "Play ball!" and after all the players had returned to the dugout for the first pitch, Salazar remained on the field, standing near home plate and talking to two umpires.
When he finally returned to the dugout and play began, Salazar didn't sit back against the wall. Instead, he stood near the dugout steps or just behind them during his team's at-bats, watching closely. He will soon resume his role as third-base coach.
"I have no fear being back on the field," Salazar says. "This is what I love -- teaching, coaching baseball." 
He is especially cautious of errant elbows in the dugout, ensuring that he protects his right eye. He continues the physical therapy work he began with Jones and says that life's daily routines don't feel any differently than they did before.
"Losing an eye is a traumatic event, and for a lot of people, the psychological effect is profound," says Dr. Michael Brennan, a comprehensive ophthalmologist in Burlington, N.C., and the past president of the American Academy of Ophthalmology. "But Luis is a confident guy who knows himself, and he will fight back fast."
Brennan says that some major league teams, including the Boston Red Sox, now offer training to pitchers on how to defend themselves from being injured by a hit ball. They spend time talking with young players about protection, coaching pitchers to finish their delivery so that they're not as vulnerable. McLouth said the Braves have talked about ways to make the field a safer place, especially for fans.
Salazar laughs often and is profusely thankful. The most common phrase he utters is "I want to give thanks," before offering gratitude to his family, the EMT staff, Jones, his friends, the Braves organization or the fans who sent him notes of support.
"When you have something tragic happen in your life, the only thing you can do is take the positives out of it, or you're gonna be miserable," McCann said. "He's taught me a lot about that. The way he looks at life is amazing."
Salazar said he is proud to be a role model, motivated by a renewed sense of thankfulness.
"I lost my eye, but at the same time I thank God he saved my life," Salazar said. "I have a second chance at life, and I very much appreciate it. Now, the rest is up to me."
Anna Katherine Clemmons is a reporter for ESPN The Magazine and