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Padres Keep Wheelchair-Bound Ex-Pitcher on the Roster Indefinitely

Every year since 1993, the Padres have signed Matt LaChappa to a Minor League contract. The lanky left-handed pitcher was a third-round draft pick out of El Capitan High who showed a 90-mph fastball and a killer curve. None of this is that interesting except that LaChappa hasn't thrown a pitch in almost 20 years.

LaChappa's whole life—not just his baseball career—changed one night in April 1996. While warming up in the bullpen for a start in Class A Rancho Cucamonga, he suffered a heart attack brought on by a virus around his heart. It left him brain-damaged and confined to a wheelchair. But even though he would never play baseball again, the Padres didn't release him. In fact, they've signed him to a contract every year since.

"It's our way of saying to Matt that you're a Padre for life," Priscilla Oppenheimer, the Padres' then-director of Minor League operations told the Orange Country Register.

Minor League deals are not the sort of million-dollar blockbusters the guys in the Bigs make. A basic contract like the one LaChappa is likely signed to pays just $3,000 to $7,500 for a five-month season. But more importantly, it ensures LaChappa retains his health insurance so he can receive necessary medical care.

"It is Highmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield, and they've really been supportive through all this," Oppenheimer said. "I'm sure they could get out of it if they chose."

Oppenheimer, who is credited with championing LaChappa's case to the team, is no longer with the Padres, but her legacy lives on. "It was the right thing to do, the right and proper thing. He's such a good kid, a good player. I was so happy when we did that," Oppenheimer told MLB earlier this season. "And I'm so happy the Padres have kept it up after all these years."

Not only does the franchise continue to support LaChappa financially, they honor him on the baseball field as well. They renamed a Little League Park they helped renovate in Lakeside "Matt LaChappa Field." They honored him at Petco Park, where they wheeled him out to the mound so he could watch his brother throw out the first pitch. And they retired his uniform back at Rancho Cucamonga, where his father threw out the Opening Day first pitch a few years back.

Through it all, LaChappa, who grew up a Padres fan, still loves baseball. Earlier this season he was the Padres' guest at a game and watched batting practice from down on the field, where he met all the current players—technically his teammates.

"When this first happened, we weren't sure if he was going to live or die," said Matt's father Clifford LaChappa. "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."

And as much as LaChappa loves the Padres, the organization loves him back. "It's my privilege to be able to do this," Oppenheimer said back in 2003. "Matt is my hero."

[h/t USA Today]

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Pop Culture
The Simpsons's Classic Baseball Episode Gets the Mockumentary Treatment
Fox Sports, YouTube
Fox Sports, YouTube

Opinions vary widely about the continued existence of The Simpsons, which just began its 29th season. Some believe the show ran out of steam decades ago, while others see no reason why the satirical animated comedy can’t run forever.

Both sides will no doubt have something to say about the episode airing Sunday, October 22, which reframes the premise of the show’s classic “Homer at the Bat” installment from 1992 as a Ken Burns-style mockumentary titled Springfield of Dreams: The Legend of Homer Simpson.

As Mashable reports, “Homer at the Bat” saw Montgomery Burns launch his own baseball team and populate it with real major league players like Wade Boggs, Steve Sax, and Jose Canseco to dominate the competition. In the one-hour special, the players will discuss their (fictional) participation, along with interviews featuring Homer and other members of the animated cast.

It’s not clear how much of the special will break the fourth wall and go into the actual making of the episode, a backstory that involves guest star Ken Griffey Jr. getting increasingly frustrated recording his lines and Canseco’s wife objecting to a scene in which her husband's animated counterpart wakes up in bed with lecherous schoolteacher Edna Krabappel.

Morgan Spurlock (Super-Size Me) directed the special, which is slated to air on Fox at either 3 p.m. EST or 4:30 p.m. EST depending on NFL schedules in local markets. There will also be a new episode of The Simpsons—an annual Halloween-themed "Treehouse of Horror" installment—airing in its regular 8 p.m. time slot.

[h/t Mashable]

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Great Big Story, Youtube
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Seattle Mariners Fans Are Going Crazy for These Crunchy Grasshopper Snacks
Great Big Story, Youtube
Great Big Story, Youtube

Seattle Mariners fans have more than warmed up to the newest, offbeat addition to the Safeco Field concessions menu: toasted grasshoppers covered in chili-lime salt.

The crunchy snack, which sells for $4 and comes packed in a small container, has only been available for less than a season but has already sold 300,000-plus orders to date. That's about 1000 pounds of grasshoppers. 

Frequenters of Seattle's popular Mexican restaurant Poquitos will know that this delicacy—which first started as a novelty item on its menu—has actually been available to the public for six years. But it wasn't until local chef Ethan Stowell was hired to give the Safeco Field menu a hip retooling that the salty bugs found new, fervent popularity at the ballpark. (Also on the Safeco menu: fried oysters drizzled in hot sauce.)

Great Big Story met up with Manny Arce, the executive chef of Poquitos and visionary behind this culinary home run, to discuss the popularity of these crunchy critters. You can watch the video interview below:

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