We often throw around words like “overcoming adversity” with great ease, especially when it comes to our athletic heroes. It is easy to forget that even our biggest stars have to deal with life’s issues away from the field as well, so when someone like the Mets’ Jonathan Niese leaves the team to attend his grandmother’s funeral this week, or Daniel Murphy misses a game to be with his wife for the birth of their child, we are somewhat surprised, and in some cases, even cynical and nasty as these stars show their feet of clay.
It is with that in mind this week, as we watch MLB’s stars rise and fall on the field, that Topps announced a new series, called “Pride & Perseverance.” The update celebrates Major League players from the past and present who have triumphed in spite of disabilities that have come their way and is timed to celebrate the 70th anniversary of National Disability Employment Awareness Month and honor 25 years of the Americans with Disabilities legislation.
“As a game for all, Baseball is proud to be the sport of Jim Abbott, Curtis Pride and many world-class athletes who have overcome obstacles en route to success in the Major Leagues,” said Wendy Lewis, MLB Senior Vice President of Diversity, Inclusion & Strategic Alliances said in a statement. “This special set from Topps is a terrific way not only to honor all individuals who have faced challenges and reached the highest level of their chosen sport, but also to inspire anyone who dreams of one day being a part of the National Pastime. We commend Topps, a longtime valued partner, for this extraordinary tribute to players who have made an enduring impact on our game.”
Those in the set include Chicago Cubs cancer survivors Jon Lester and Anthony Rizzo, San Francisco Giants pitcher Jake Peavy, who is legally blind without his corrective lenses and even Pete Gray, a former outfielder who played for the St. Louis Browns in 1945 and spent six seasons in the minor leagues, despite having lost an arm in a childhood accident.
The set also has some local ties, which includes Mets reliever Buddy Carlyle, who was diagnosed with diabetes in 2009 and former Met (and briefly, Yankee) and Hofstra standout Curtis Pride, who played 13 MLB seasons and was born deaf. Then of course there is perhaps the most inspirational Yankee of recent years, Jim Abbott, who starred at Michigan, won a gold medal for the 1988 U.S. Olympic baseball team and threw a no-hitter in 1993 for the Bombers despite being born without his right hand.
“The importance of this set cannot be overstated,” said David Leiner, VP & General Manager of North American Sports and Entertainment for Topps in a release. “These men had to overcome great odds to not only make it to the Majors, but at times with what could have been a disadvantage. Instead, they are an inspiration and we are honored to showcase them in our product.”
Heroes on the field and heroes off, a nice remembrance as we head toward The Fall Classic.