I'm a sucker for feel good sports stories. But for an industry that grosses in the billions, sports have felt all too...well, businesslike over the past decade. It's all about "brand," tv deals, and maximizing profits. And while some might not care much, so long as the on field product is entertaining...I'm one of those annoying moralistic do-gooder types, I guess.
So when I was catching up on the day's baseball news before bed last night, one story particularly caught my eye.
The Padres signed a player I had never heard of to a minor league contract. Never mind the fact that the man has been able to play baseball - they've inked him to a deal for the past 20 years. Matt LaChappa was a pitching prospect until he suffered two heart attacks while warming up for a game, ending his baseball career and leaving him with major medical issues.
The Padres had no obligation to LaChappa. But they've signed him to a contract each season, providing some small income and access to much needed medical insurance.
I admire the Padres for the commitment they've shown to a former player, but I admire them just as much for the fact that this isn't their story. I came across the story for the first time last night, but apparently it was first written about in 2005. But at that point this had been an annual deal for a full decade. The Padres don't release a PR statement, or tweet it, or pat themselves on the back. It's just something they do, under the radar, because they can. Because a baseball team spends more money to "rent" a Rule 5 player and bring them into camp for a few weeks just to take a look. But in an age where every goodwill gesture - charity efforts, those obnoxious camo jerseys, the ad nausea stream of support our troops messages are accompanied with a press release, merchandise, and efforts to unquestionably build revenue and brand identification, I can't even express how great it is to see a team doing something heartfelt and genuine without asking for or seeking any recognition.
I'm not a Padres fan, but this kind of thing gives me a new level of respect for the franchise. Now if we can just get them to change the damn uniforms...