See also: Previous Independent Notebook
Rusty Begnaud has always been a gamer, the kind of player whose results always seem to be better than expected.
When the Pensacola Pelicans started the season 0-8 this year, Begnaud came into manager Kash Beauchamp’s office and promised him that the streak would stop the next day. He then went out and pitched a shutout.
Now Beauchamp is confident that Begnaud’s determination will serve him well as he faces an even bigger challenge.
The Pelicans’ rookie righthander fractured his spinal column on June 20 when he dove into shallow water in a pool hours after he picked up his sixth victory of the season. He was paralyzed from the chest down, although he has shown some ability to move his arms and shoulders.
Begnaud is now at the Shepherd Center in Atlanta, which specializes in caring for spinal injuries and has been on a ventilator to help his breathing. He has been sitting in a wheelchair for two hours a day and is wearing a semi-soft collar neck brace, according to a Website his parents have created to update friends and family on Begnaud’s recovery.
“One thing about Rusty, he’s an overachiever,” Beauchamp said. “He maximizes it on the field with a competitive drive. That’s why Rusty’s going to be OK. He’s going to take that drive and fire into his rehab. He’s ready to attack his rehab.”
The injury left the Pelicans stunned, but the team and the community rallied together to raise money for Begnaud’s care. The Pelicans and teams throughout the American Association pass a bucket during each game. The Pelicans have held cookouts as fund-raisers, and the team is selling Begnaud wristbands on its Website (pensacolapelicans.com). So far, the team had raised $16,000 for Begnaud’s care.
Team owner Quint Studer has told the Begnaud family that Rusty will remain on the team’s payroll as a Pelican forever, according to Beauchamp, who said he hopes Begnaud will eventually be able to work for the team as a coach.
On the field, the team has struggled to replace the righthander. The day after Begnaud’s injury, the Pelicans sold ace Clint Sodowsky to the Braves. Both had been named as American Association all-stars, and Begnaud led the league in wins and was fifth in the league in ERA, with a 6-2, 2.70 record, at the time of the injury.
“This guy was definitely going back to an organization. He’s a David Eckstein type of a pitcher,” Beauchamp said.
Begnaud was also considered one of the leaders on the pitching staff. With him fighting to recover, the team’s morale plummeted.
“The next two games after the incident were probably the deadest feeling I’ve ever had,” Beauchamp said. “We got waxed the next two days. The turning point was Rusty’s father asking to speak to the ballclub. Rusty’s dad came in and said hey, quit feeling sorry for yourselves and quit feeling sorry for Rusty. He said that Rusty doesn’t want to hear you on the radio feeling sorry for yourselves. Play the game Rusty would want you play.”
The Pelicans went out and won that night, but it doesn’t mean that anything has been easy since the accident.
“This is the toughest thing I’ve gone through as a manager,” Beauchamp said. “Rusty is a wildly popular guy. He’s a rookie who played like a veteran.”
Begnaud played two years at McNeese State and signed with the Royals as a nondrafted free agent in 2004. He spent the last two seasons in the Royals organization before signing with Pensacola.
For more information on Begnaud’s recovery, go to www.carepages.com. Begnaud’s page name is rustybegnaud. For more information on how to donate to the Rusty Begnaud fund, go to the Pensacola PelicansWebsite.
Pitching And Pulling Tarp
When the Rockford Riverhawks (Frontier) selected Augie Rodriguez during the offseason dispersal draft, they figured they were getting a reliable arm for their rotation.
What they didn’t know is he’s also pretty good at mowing the infield.
The lefthander is working as the team’s fifth starter, but he’s also been working as a groundskeeper, something he worked out with manager J.D. Arndt before the season began.
“He’s married. He’s trying to get his masters degree in the offseason. Money is at a premium for him,” Arndt said. “He kind of tends to be a high energy kid. He loves to be around the field. He’s a field rat, literally cutting the grass. I told him, as long as it doesn’t affect your pitching, that’s fine.”
The dual roles have not seemed to hurt Rodriguez. He doesn’t work on the field the day before and the day of his starts, and he is usually done hours before the game. But to pull off the double duty takes a guy that wants to do anything possible to play.
“Not too many people would do that. Usually with baseball hours, you go to bed at 2 a.m. and sleep until noon. He’s also worked some of the kid camps. He’s an outstanding person,” Arndt said.
• Steve Martin, a two-year member of the Chillicothe Paints (Frontier), was killed in a car accident a day after he was released by the team. Martin, who had previously played for Evansville, hit .327-15-54 for Chillicothe in 2005 and made the all-star team while helping them to the Frontier League championship series. “It is all over me right now,” Greg Jelks, Martin’s manager with Evansville, told the Evansville Courier and Press. “It’s a sad day for our organization and the league for a kid so young. He was outstanding for this league and I’m going to miss him. He’s all over my heart. He was an all-star for the Otters and a big part of us making the playoffs (in 2004).”
• The Golden League pulled off another high-profile signing when Jose Canseco agreed to a deal with the San Diego Surf Dawgs. Canseco then requested and was granted a trade to the Long Beach Armada. In his first 10 at-bats, Canseco was hitting .100 for Long Beach with one single.
• Another week, another slew of publicity-focused signings. The Nashua Pride (Can-Am) signed skier Bode Miller to a one-day contract, with proceeds from ticket sales going to charity. Also, the Sioux Falls Canaries (American Association) allowed 83-year-old Jim Eriotes to lead off their game against the St. Joe’s Blacksnakes, becoming the oldest player ever in a pro baseball game. Eriotes struck out on four pitches.