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The San Diego Padres Sign Wheelchair-Bound Former Prospect Matt LaChappa to a Minor League Deal Every Single Year
In 1993, the San Diego Padres used their second pick in the MLB amateur draft on an 18-year-old pitcher from the Barona Indian Reservation named Matt LaChappa. With a big league power curve, scouts thought LaChappa could become a number two or three starter in the majors after fine-tuning his command in the minors. However, in 1996, while warming up in the bullpen for single-A Rancho Cucumonga, LaChappa suffered a heart attack that put him in a wheelchair and ended his promising baseball career at the age of 21.
Amazingly, though, the Padres have never forgotten about Matt LaChappa.
“When he became a six-year free agent, I just renewed him for six more years,” recalled former Padres farm director Priscilla Oppenheimer in a 2006 interview with the San Diego Union Tribune. “Nobody’s said that I shouldn’t, so I keep doing it. To me, it was the right thing to do. If they gave me any static about it, I would have taken it.”
The tradition was carried on by Oppenheimer’s predecessors. Every year, the Padres sign Matt LaChappa to a basic minor league deal. It doesn’t pay much, but it enables LaChappa to keep his insurance, which is obviously a huge deal for somebody with serious health issues.
“Nowadays, everybody talks about the statistics in baseball, and how it has all become a numbers game,” Matt’s brother, Eagle LaChappa, told USA TODAY Sports. “But the Padres have been pretty special to him. They’ve said he’ll be a Padre for the rest of his life, and they’ve allowed him to keep a certain level of care.”
I don’t know about you, but I’m kind of a Padres fan now.