|Daniel "Doc" Jacobs at Dodger Tryout|
[San Gabriel Valley Tribune]
L.A. Daily News
GLENDALE, Ariz. – Like a mouse creeping up an elephant, the thought of playing baseball with Dodgers officials watching made Daniel "Doc" Jacobs nervous.
"I still am nervous," Jacobs said Thursday, minutes after his audition was over.
On a back field at Camelback Ranch with the other participants in an open tryout with the Dodgers, Jacobs was a world away from Ramadi, Iraq. Seven years and three days earlier, he was on a battlefield in Ramadi when an IED exploded beneath him, killing the Marine with him and shattering his body.
Jacobs underwent more than 50 surgeries, including an amputation of his left leg below the knee. Within years, he became the first amputee to return to active duty in the Navy.
On Thursday, the 27-year-old was number 627 – nothing more than the number on his back, nothing less than a hero.
"Once we kicked off the war in Iraq, I decided that I wanted to go in and serve and carry on my family heritage," he said. "Everybody in every generation in my family has served. I didn't know if we were ever going to fight a war again so I wanted to definitely go fight in a war, really fight for our freedom."
Jacobs said his great-grandfather fought in World War II, and an ancestor on his mother's side fought in the Civil War.
His other dream was to play Major League Baseball.
The opportunity arose a year ago when Jacobs met former Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda at a California Disabled Veterans Business Alliance meeting and shared his dream. Lasorda invited Jacobs to try out on the spot; Jacobs obliged and decided not to wear the hat of his childhood team, the Cleveland Indians.
"I didn't want to disrespect him by that," Jacobs said.
Unless you were looking closely at his left leg, Jacobs' tryout was indistinguishable from most. He fielded a pair of ground balls cleanly but long-hopped both throws. A backhand was hit to his right side, but it went under his glove and rolled onto the outfield grass. Another backhand met Jacobs' glove cleanly, but he short-hopped that throw.
For Jacobs, there was more to the tryout than what could fit in a scouting report.
"It's all about the experience, and letting America and these guys know that not all disabled veterans are going to be a statistic in the news," he said. "I'm here to combat the suicide rate, homicide rate, divorce rate statistics. I just want to get out there and prove to America there are awesome disabled veterans out there and we are making a stand against that."