Tags: San Diego | Padres | pitcher | Matt LaChappa

Padres Keep Ill Hurler on Payroll 20 Years After Last Pitch

By    |   Thursday, 16 Apr 2015 04:59 PM

It has been nearly 20 years since rookie minor league pitcher Matt LaChappa threw his last left-handed sizzling fastball and killer curveball for the San Diego Padres, but he's still on the team.

Every year, the Padres have shown incredible heart, stepping up to the plate to sign LaChappa for another season, despite the fact that he's confined to a wheelchair, can barely speak, and never will throw another pitch, NBC News reports.

Story continues below video.

LaChappa, who lives on the Barona Indian Reservation, was signed in 1993 by the Padres right after he graduated from El Capitan High School, and seemed to have a glittering baseball future ahead of him.

However, one tragic day in April 1996, LaChappa suffered a sudden heart attack in the bullpen while warming up to pitch in a game. A second heart attack that night, attributed to an undetected infection, resulted in permanent brain damage and ended his pitching career.

Yet to this day, Matt still remains a Padre, Business Insider notes.

Priscilla Oppenheimer, director of minor league operations for the Padres at the time, told NBC News that when LaChappa was signed to the team, "his mom said, 'you watch out for him' and I said, 'I'll take good care of him.' "

Oppenheimer was true to her word. She approached Larry Lucchino, then the team's president, and told him she wanted to continue to sign LaChappa, so he could continue to receive his small minor league salary and, more importantly, so that the young man who needed full-time nursing care would retain his health insurance.

"It's our way of saying to Matt that you're a Padre for life. He (Lucchino) said, 'that's the way it should be. And as long as I'm here, that's the way it's going to stay,' " Business Insider reported.

Matt receives his minimum minor league salary, but the health insurance means he can get the care he needs.

Matt's father, Clifford LaChappa, told MLB.com: "When this first happened, we weren't sure if he was going to live or die. But the Padres made such a commitment to making Matt a Padre for life. For them to do that, it shows you that sports aren't just about winning, it's also about caring for the players."

The Padres even opened a Little League field and named it Matt LaChappa Field, MLB.com reports.

"It was the right thing to do — the right and proper thing," Oppenheimer told MLB.com.

"He's such a good kid; a good player. I was so happy when we did that and I'm so happy the Padres have kept it up after all these years."

Today, Matt excitedly watches the Padres on TV at home on the reservation and occasionally makes it to the park to watch a game, wearing a team jersey, hat and a glove, and a beaming smile as he's greeted by all the players.

"You think about the career he could have had, and what might have been," Oppenheimer told NBC News, "but I'm so very happy the Padres have continued to honor his contract this many years later. It just shows what a classy organization the Padres are."

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It has been nearly 20 years since rookie minor league pitcher Matt LaChappa threw his last left-handed sizzling fastball and killer curveball for the San Diego Padres, but he's still on the team.
San Diego, Padres, pitcher, Matt LaChappa
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2015-59-16
Thursday, 16 Apr 2015 04:59 PM
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