Three draft picks sat in front of a room for a news conference.
Two of them were in folding chairs, wearing Texas Rangers hats, looking at their jerseys that were draped on a table in front of them and talking about their futures in baseball.
The other was in a wheelchair and wearing a black polo. No hat and no jersey in front of him. He also talked about baseball.
“It’s still at the center of my life,” Johnathan Taylor says later. “I can’t let go of it. … I’m focused on getting better, on my rehab, getting my legs under me again. I’m going to walk, then run. Then I’m going to get back on the field again, just like before.”
Amid the drivel of contract squabbles, collective bargaining issues and what cyclist might have doped when, it’s easy to lose sight of the truly important stories in sports. One of them took place Saturday. Taylor, the Georgia player who has suffered from partial paralysis since a collision in the outfield with teammate Zach Cone, reminded everybody what courage and inspiration look like.
The Braves’ series against Texas turned out to be wonderful kismet. The Rangers held a news conference at Turner Field for three of their draft picks from Georgia: Cone and pitcher Kevin Matthews of Richmond Hill, both of whom signed contracts this week, and Taylor, their 33rd-round pick, who turned one down.
Taylor knew a contract would’ve negated his NCAA eligibility, and he plans to play again one day. So Texas, in lieu of a signing bonus, made a donation to the team’s foundation that is helping support him during his rehabilitation. Taylor’s plans are to return to Georgia in the fall and work toward completing his degree while continuing his rehabilitation at the Shepherd Center.
“The Rangers have been awesome,” his mother, Tandra Taylor said. “They made his dream come true. And they’re still going to make his dream come true down the line.”
He can stretch his arms out now. He can do menial tasks he used to take for granted. He can move his toes and various body parts, but would rather not get specific.
“I’m trying to keep it low key right now,” he said, smiling.
He has heard the odds are against him walking again, let alone playing baseball. He considers that background noise. They don’t know him, his determination, his will. They don’t know what he saw two years ago, after his mother fell asleep while driving and crashed into a tree.
She wasn’t supposed to walk again, either.
“She broke her femur,” he said. “People told her she wasn’t going to walk, but she wouldn’t listen to them. As you see her today, she’s walking. Her being by me every day, with her positive attitude since this happened, that really has meant a lot to me.”
Tandra Taylor stood in the back of the room while Johnathan sat in front, telling anybody who would listen that this fight isn’t over. It was easy to see where the son’s attitude came from.
“He’s coming back. He’s definitely coming back,” she said.
Johnathan was a freshman at Georgia when his mother was driving late one night in Acworth. She fell asleep at the wheel.
“The tree wouldn’t get out of my way. What can I say?” she said.
Now she can joke. At the time, she had a crushed femur and mangled knee. Doctors told her she wouldn’t walk again.
“They even thought about amputating my leg,” she said.
She thought otherwise.
“[Johnathan] saw what I went through,” she said. “Now he thinks, ‘If she did it, I can, too.’ And he’s younger than me.”
Taylor and Cone were chasing a fly ball in a March 6 game against Florida State. Taylor slid, Cone dove. “Some reported it as a head-to-head collision, but actually JT’s head hit Zach’s hip,” said Janet Cone, Zach’s mother. “Zach said later he had a sore hip.”
Cone went through depression. Taylor told him a million times it’s not his fault, but it was difficult for Cone not to feel responsibility.
He says it’s a little better now.
“Just seeing him get a little better every day helps,” he said. “It makes you feel good.”
Janet Cone said, “Emotionally, Zach’s getting better. But he really won’t get better until JT gets better.”
The irony: Taylor is the one telling Cone to hang in there. He’s the one giving others an emotional lift.
“If you knew JT, that’s not surprising,” Tandra Taylor said. “If you ever think you’re going to get depressed, just hang around him.”
Three draft picks sat in the front of the room. All were looking forward to the future.
By Jeff Schultz