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Where there's a will, there's a wall.
Something like that.
We're working on a slogan here, a slogan we'll be posting over the clubhouse door for our new favorite team:
The All-Run-Through-A-Wall team.
Of course, the men who make up that team might not even bother to open that door. They'll probably just crash right through it.
Then again, the members of the All-Run-Through-A-Wall team are goofy like that. They regard stuff like doors and walls, railings and concrete, as major inconveniences in life. And they have the pockmarks to prove it. But so do the doors, walls and railings.
Where there's a wall, there's a way. Where there's a will, there's a wall.
"Good slogan," says the captain of the All-Run-Through-A-Wall team, Phillies center fielder Aaron "Scarface" Rowand . "Because it's will. It really is. That's the word I'd use. It's about having that will -- that will to win, whatever it takes."
Whatever it takes. Dangerous phrase for people like this.
In Rowand's case, whatever it took last month was splattering his nose on the unpadded center-field fence in Philadelphia.
He sacrificed his nose to make a stupendous bases-loaded catch in a game against the Mets -- a game he apparently believed was more important than keeping his face attached to the rest of his uniform.
But he heard That Voice in his head, a voice that told him: "This ball has to be caught." And to make it onto the All-Run-Through-A-Wall Team, you have to be a man who hears That Voice -- and listens to it. No matter how much pain is involved.
|David Wright combines star skills with remarkable tenacity.|
So is it basic instinct or baseball instinct? It's actually a little of both. After all, both those instincts are driven by That Voice, the voice that tells these men that certain things matter more than other things. Winning? Matters. Pain? Not so much.
That Voice doesn't show up on any spreadsheets. You can't find it with a calculator. But you don't think men like Wright and Torii Hunter hear it? You don't think guys like Rowand and Derek Jeter hear it? Their teammates know they hear it. Anybody who has ever paid attention knows they hear it.
"Guys like Jeter and Aaron, they're guys who try to make a great play every single night," says Tom Gordon, who has played with both of them. "They don't think about themselves. They just think: This is a play that's got to be made, and they're going to make it -- and they end up practically killed."
Well, as long as they're only practically killed, they qualify for this team. Their plastic surgeons and their orthopedic surgeons already have paid their respects to these guys. Now, it's our turn. So here they come, our esteemed nominees for the All-Run-Through-A-Wall team:
"He looked like a boxer," Jimmy Rollins says. "He looked like Oscar De La Hoya after he faced one of those high-percentage punchers."
OK, so it wasn't a GQ kind of look. But it was the perfect look for the face of the All-Run-Through-A-Wall team.
"One of the prerequisites is you have to have some stitches in your face to be the captain of this team," says Dodgers coach-witticist Rich Donnelly. "You can't just have bruises. You have to have stitches."
He has been involved in so many crashes, smashes, bashes and splatterfests, it's hard to pick out just one. But our favorite might be a wall-rattling catch he made against the Giants last year that knocked him woozy enough to go to the hospital the next day
Where, when he couldn't find a doctor, he actually read his own X-rays.
Yeah, his shoulder hurt. And his head hurt. But that wouldn't stop him from playing, of course -- because "for some reason, I'm used to hitting things with my head."
"I'm waiting for him to round second one night and take out the left fielder," Donnelly says. "Once he leaves the dugout, he's dangerous."
He knocked himself unconscious running into a pole in high school. He literally ran through a plywood fence when he was in Double-A. He told Jerry Crasnick last summer that he once slid so hard making a catch on the Turf at the Metrodome that he burned his goatee -- and another time melted the buttons on his uniform. And, he ended his 2005 season in July with a crash into the fence at Fenway that mashed up his ankle.
So what is Hunter's signature moment? Has to be his wall-ball catch in the 2002 All-Star Game that snatched a Barry Bonds bash right out of Home Run Land.
"He's Spiderman," Donnelly says. "He climbs the wall and floats along the top of it rather than going through it. He's the Flying Wallendas of center fielders."
Back in 2001, he once gave that term "scoreboard watching" a whole new meaning -- when he stampeded into the scoreboard in Detroit so hard he knocked out a few light bulbs. He was back from that one the next day.
The next year, he made a noggin-first charge into the fence in Anaheim, got a concussion out of it, wouldn't leave the game and made two more diving catches that night. It wasn't until a few days later, when he shook himself up again with another sprawling catch, that anybody figured out he had post-concussion syndrome.
"You want somebody who has total disregard for his body, he's it," says Joe Maddon, Devil Rays manager and longtime Angels coach. "He's the poster boy. If you're making the movie of this team, he's your Ben-Hur, flying around the field on his chariot."
Freel has impaled himself on so many different parts of the ballpark, he "looks like he just got done sparring," Donnelly says. "He always looks like his face just got chopped up. He's got marks all over himself from some kind of collision."
But he first came to our attention in 2004, when he launched himself over the right-field fence in Dodger Stadium and landed in the lap of a woman in the third row. She went to the hospital. He stayed in the game. Naturally.
Afterward, Freel's then-teammate Danny Graves told us: "Ryan Freel is out of control. ... Sometimes, when he's playing right field, he wants to catch foul balls behind the plate. We have to give him a shot or something to calm him down. Maybe Valium. Or a sleeping pill."
|Look up gamer in the dictionary, and there's a picture of Derek Jeter.|
He has just caught a Trot Nixon pop-up into the Bronx Triangle behind third, at full throttle. And only after he has caught this ball does he take a look at where he is about to land: Four rows deep into the box seats. Where his face is going to get a real, real, real close-up view of a Yankee Stadium chair railing.
He would stagger up a few moments later, with actual chair indentations running up the side of his face. But That Voice spoke to him. So this ball had to be caught. And was going to be caught.
"I was up in the clubhouse when he came in," Gordon says. "And he was a mess. But he didn't think about the consequences. He just reacted. He thought he could make that play, and that's what happened. The most courageous thing was that he didn't even look back. He just wanted to make a play. And that's what you get with great players. They're going to make that play no matter what happens to them."
He chased a foul ball all the way to the seats beyond third base. He could see the baseball was going to come down three rows into the stands. So a normal member of our species just would have given up.
But there's a reason Wright is on this team. He heard That Voice. He knew what he had to do. So he took off, hurled himself into the midst of the ticket-buying public, caught that foul ball and clattered off an empty seat. His rib cage still reminds him just how insane he had to be to do that. But hey, Pedro was pitching.
"I expected to land on somebody," Wright says. "But everyone cleared out. So I caught the ball, and all I could see was chairs. I said, 'Uh-ohhhh.'"
As he was lying there, trying to regain consciousness, one fan tried to yank the ball out of his hands. Another fan did swipe his cap. So when he finally wobbled out of there, he was hatless in Seattle. But at least he had guaranteed his spot on the All-Run-Through-A-Wall team.
"You know, I had bruises up and down the right side of my body for a month," Wright says. "But it was well worth it."
"The funny thing is, you couldn't do that anymore even if you wanted to," Lo Duca says. "They had that rubberized warning track back then. Now they have the pebbles, so you'd stop. But then, you could slide. So basically, I just got lucky. It was a little misty, and I was able to slide on the track and grab the ball before I went in [the dugout]. It was awesome, though, especially doing it against the Giants."
Now technically, Lo Duca didn't exactly crash into any wall, let alone run through one. But Lo Duca says we can't disqualify him because he did run into the left-field fence once when the Dodgers stuck him in the outfield for a day.
"Todd Helton was hitting, and it was a big out," he says. "I thought I was going to catch it, and I ran right into the wall. Unfortunately, the ball landed like 10 rows back."
In his first spring training with the Marlins, he not only got their attention with a chin-first slide into home plate during an exhibition game but GM Larry Beinfest had to seek him out and tell him the team would fine him $1,000 if he ever did it again. But Willis has done it many times since. And they haven't fined him yet.
"Dontrelle's just a big, strong athletic kid who has this conviction that he's never going to let anybody dismiss him as a [wimp]," says his agent, Matt Sosnick. "So if he's ever down a run in the seventh inning and there's a play at the plate, he'd rip the catcher in half if he had to. He might separate his shoulder doing it, but he'd score that run. Dontrelle is 6-4, 240. So if he's sprinting toward home plate, he'd figure he was going to deliver more pain to the catcher than anybody would inflict on him."
Sounds like our kind of guy, all right -- a guy who deserves his rightful place on the All-Run-Through-A-Wall team.
Honorable mention: Brandon Backe (Astros) and Greg Maddux (Cubs).
2B -- Chase Utley, Marcus Giles
SS -- Jack Wilson, Juan Uribe
3B -- Scott Rolen, Aaron Boone
OF -- Brady Clark, David DeJesus, Mike Cameron, Brian Giles
C -- Jason Kendall, Vance Wilson
P -- Kenny Rogers, Tim Hudson, Mike Hampton
UTILITY KAMIKAZE -- Ty Wigginton
UP AND COMER -- Dodgers rookie Russ Martin
Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com.