Dream realized for paralyzed draftee

Dream realized for paralyzed draftee

HOUSTON -- Bryan Jaeger was where he dreamed of being -- in the Rockies clubhouse, with the team on the Minute Maid Park dirt and grass for batting practice Thursday night.

The circumstances, tragically, weren't what he was planning. But from his wheelchair, he could give the smile of a kid who has made it.

The Rockies drafted Jaeger, 19, out of LSU-Eunice, a two-year school, as a center fielder in the 43rd round of the 2006 First-Year Player Draft, with plans to follow him through the 2007 collegiate season, then sign him.

That was changed by a freak accident. On Oct. 18, Jaeger was running during a heavy storm to join some of his buddies for a game of "mud football" when he slipped on the field and slid head-first into a culvert. The accident shattered his C6 vertebrae and fractured the C7 vertebrae.

It left him unable to use his legs and drastically affected his arms and fingers. Through rehab, he has regained the range of motion in his arms and has some limited finger movement.

His mother, Jodi Jaeger, contacted the Rockies hoping Bryan, who has done several rounds of rehab at the Texas Medical Center's Institute for Rehabilitation and Research in Houston, could watch batting practice.

Rockies scout Dave McQueen called manager Clint Hurdle, and the club went one better, making Jaeger their guest in the clubhouse and giving him a tour of Minute Maid Park.

"We went down inside the clubhouse, and everybody came and talked with me," Jaeger said. "It was just unbelievable. I don't know the words to explain it. I had always been a big fan of Todd Helton.

"When I got to meet him, it was unbelievable. He was telling me to keep motivated, don't give up. It was just a proud moment. I love the way he plays the game. I always played with great intensity, going all out. From the first time I watched him play, that's the impression I got of him."

Hurdle also asked Astros second baseman Craig Biggio to take a few minutes during batting practice to chat with Jaeger. He was happy to oblige, and in tow were quite a few photographers.

Jaeger has progressed beyond expectations already.

Those with his injury are expected to lose the use of their fingers, but he is able to move his on a limited basis. Jaeger said his goal is to become independent enough to be able to move his wheelchair and become involved in sports for the disabled.

"We've been doing a lot of out-of-state rehab -- we're from the Shreveport-Bossier City [La.] area," his mother said. "We've rehabbed here three times. We're getting ready to go to Ohio for rehab. We're trying to do everything we can to get something to regenerate."

Helton had difficulty coming up with words. Jaeger was admiring him, yet Helton felt Jaeger deserves admiration.

"Obviously, hearing his story, it's hard to find something to say," Helton said. "But whatever you say puts a smile on his face. It's really tough to think about.

"Anytime you hear about this it's bad, regardless if he's a baseball player. But it kind of hits closer to home. He was just drafted and was in the same situation you've been in. It makes you thank God for where you're at, everything you take for granted each and every day."

Jaeger isn't playing baseball, but he has dreams of a future in the game.

After rehab, he hopes to pursue a degree in kinesiology and become a high school baseball coach and has interest in scouting. He helps his dad, Bob Jaeger, coach a select softball team on which his younger sister, Stephanie, plays shortstop.

The special night came after one of the toughest times Jaeger has faced emotionally.

The Rockies' Rookie-level club in Casper, Wyo., recently opened its season. Had Jaeger not suffered the accident, he likely would be playing the early months of his career.

"Once June came around, it was the toughest time," he said. "I had a couple of days when I was just down. I didn't want to socialize with anybody, because it was just tough."

Thursday helped.

"The smile on his face today was priceless," his mother said.

Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.