Galarraga is passion, perspective

July 12, 2000|By Ken Rosenthal

ATLANTA - Seven injured starters missed the All-Star Game. Andres Galarraga missed all of last season.

His presence last night was just slightly more important than anyone's absence.

Galarraga received three standing ovations from the home crowd at Turner Field - during introductions, before his first at-bat and after he departed for a pinch-runner following a fourth-inning single.

He has power to all fields.

He has even more power as a cancer survivor.

"There are probably no words to explain how happy, how excited I am feeling," Galarraga said. "That's a great moment in my career in baseball - to walk on the field with my kids, and the ovation they gave to me, my fans here in Atlanta."

The American League won, 6-3, but Galarraga's comeback from non-Hodgkins Lymphona is the feel-good story of the 2000 season.

Eric Davis, Joe Torre, even Darryl Strawberry - major-league baseball keeps producing inspirational stories for recovering cancer patients and their families.

But Galarraga's is the topper.

"I come back and I sit on my rear end," said Torre, who managed Galarraga in St. Louis, and now manages the New York Yankees. "To have him come back and do what he has done physically, it's taken a lot of dedication, a lot of hard work.

"That's the greatest story we've had in sports, in my mind. [Lance] Armstrong last year with the Tour de France and this year with Andres - it's a wonderful story. Really puts a smile on your face."

And it kind of makes you forget about Sammy Sosa's contract dispute, Ken Griffey's melancholy state and even Cal Ripken's back trouble.

You should have seen Griffey at his media session Monday, speaking in an almost inaudible monotone, looking as if the weight of being Ken Griffey Jr. was just too much to bear.

Who was he kidding?

Who is any pouty superstar to complain when he compares his plight to Galarraga's?

The game is bigger than any one individual. But the game produces some awfully fine individuals, and sometimes that gets lost in the noise surrounding peripheral issues.

The game is fun, OK?

The game is Sosa breaking into broad grins after each of his successful swings in the Home Run Derby.

The game is 11-year veteran Mike Bordick smoking a line drive to deep center off Kevin Brown in his first All-Star at-bat.

The game is Galarraga tipping his helmet to the cheering crowd, then digging into the batter's box to play the sport that he loves.

Galarraga, 39, started in place of the injured Mark McGwire, the greatest home-run hitter in the game. And on this night, in this setting, he was the preferred choice.

He hit a wicked line drive to left field off David Wells in his first at-bat, then lined a single to center off Aaron Sele in the fourth inning.

Cheers. More cheers. And then some more.

"I wasn't nervous, I was excited," Galarraga said. "I couldn't wait for the game to start, to see the reaction, to see what happens, to see how everything happens. I was like a little kid going to the field."

He has always been that way, really. His infectious personality makes him one of the game's most revered figures. And his remarkable spirit made his comeback possible.

The Braves had no idea how Galarraga would perform when he reported to spring training. But here's how he performed in the first half: a .294 batting average, 20 homers, 62 RBIs.`To me, he was our MVP in the first half," Braves manager Bobby Cox said. "One of his goals was to play in the All-Star Game this year and win a World Series. He's halfway there."

A year ago, Galarraga was coming off a 44-homer, 121-RBI season. He was diagnosed with cancer shortly before spring training. He watched the All-Star Game at home.`Believe it or not, that helped me to be more strong, to come back to play baseball again, because I love this game so much,` Galarraga said.

That's Galarraga, always upbeat.

Of course, battling cancer isn't the same as battling Randy Johnson.

"It's scary; there's no question, when you hear that `C' word, the only thing you associate with it is death,"Torre said. "I think when you talk to doctors and understand about treatment, it sort of opens your eyes a little bit, and it's not really that dark hole as you initially think."

You can escape from that hole.

You can emerge from the darkness, and become a shining light to others.

"Probably God sent the cancer to me to help a lot of people to stay positive, to play, to be more strong, to fight for life,` Galarraga said. `In that situation, I think I'm helping a lot of people to be more strong.

"I know I've been helping people, because I've been receiving a lot of letters, phone calls. A lot of people come to me and say they appreciate what I've been doing so far, to come back and play baseball."

That's what this All-Star Game was about.

Rather than bemoan those who were absent, let's celebrate those who were present.

Let's celebrate Andres Galarraga.

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