Imagine you're 20 years old. You've hit the jackpot and are about to start a potentially very lucrative career as a professional baseball player. This is a career you've worked incredibly hard to achieve. You've worked your butt off every day since the time you were very young. And, with a little bit of luck, by the time you're 40, you can retire and relax with millions of dollars in the bank and dozens of accolades on the mantle. It should be the perfect Hollywood sports story. Tragically, for San Diego Padres minor-league pitcher Matt LaChappa, his story isn't quite the picture of perfection, but it does have a pretty happy ending.
Back in 1996, when LaChappa was only 20, he suffered a heart attack that ended his baseball career. To make matters worse, the resulting health complications ended up confining him to a wheelchair.
At this point, the Padres could have shrugged their shoulders and considered this another case of bad luck, something that's all too common in the sports world. The Padres could have cut ties completely in order to save a bunch of money. Instead, however, the team decided to do something incredibly kind and generous.
Cutting him off completely would have caused Matt to lose his desperately needed health care coverage. So to help the kid out, the Padres decided to resign his minor-league contract and thus extend his insurance coverage for another year. They then proceeded to re-sign his minor league deal every single year for the last 20 years!
The 2015 season is LaChappa's 20th with the team, and though he can barely speak and has trouble lifting a spoon, his yearly contract ensures he'll get health benefits, which is obviously a big deal for someone in his condition.
LaChappa grew up on the Barona Indian Reservation just outside of San Diego. As a prospect, he was a big local celebrity. That the team is continuing to take care of one of its own is a great gesture of goodwill. And LaChappa has returned the favor–he hasn't stopped supporting the Padres, regularly coming out to games. After all, the team has done plenty to cheer about.