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Friday, February 26, 2010

Mike Paris: A Place for Everybody in Baseball

Jim Ecker        
Mike Paris drove his specially equipped van to Perfect Game headquarters in Cedar Rapids last weekend, used the wheelchair ramp on the van to get out, rolled himself to the front door of the building, went inside and parked his wheelchair behind home plate. He was ready to work, just like all the other pro scouts who came to the 2010 Pitcher/Catcher Indoor Showcase.

Paris, 48, has been a scout for about 17 years, including the past 16 years with the Chicago White Sox. He’s been in a wheelchair all that time, but it hasn’t slowed him down or prevented him from doing his job.
“I’m in a chair,” he said matter-of-factly. “You need to do things differently.”

The car accident happened in June of 1979, a few weeks after Paris had graduated from a small high school in Iowa. He was 18 at the time. Paris and a friend were on a double-date, returning from a drive-in movie with their girlfriends. His friend was driving.
“I guess he fell asleep at the wheel,” Paris said. “He ran into a ditch and hit a culvert. It broke my back. Paralyzed my legs. But life goes on. You kind of play the cards you’re dealt, you know? It wasn’t my fault, but I kind of got the worst of it, I guess.”

He spent two months at Allen Methodist Hospital in Des Moines, then had five months of rehab.
“That’s what it takes to get back up and get your mind-set right and get on with life,” he said. “I tried to walk with leg braces, but my break was so high that I couldn’t. But you get on with life. It closes some doors, but it opens up a lot of others.”

Paris played baseball in high school, as a shortstop and pitcher. Suddenly, he couldn’t even walk.
“I was laying in the hospital with a broken back, and all these people were coming to see me, some people I’d never seen before,” he said.

He received lots of cards and letters, but didn’t want people feeling sorry for him.

“What’s the big deal, man?” he’d tell people. “I’m just not going to be able to walk again. It’s no big deal.”

Paris adjusted to his new situation and began making plans. He went to a junior college, then enrolled at Iowa State University. That’s where his new life began to take shape.
He majored in phys-ed, with a minor in psychology, and got involved with the baseball program at Iowa State under Coach Bobby Randall, a former major leaguer. Jerry McNertney, another ex-big leaguer, was there as an assistant coach. Paris was a willing volunteer.

“My ears were wide open when I was around those guys, because they had a lot of good things to say,” Paris remarked. “Believe me, after practice or after a camp, I was going back to my van and writing down what they said, taking notes.”
That experience planted the seeds for a baseball career. He’s proven he can do the job, without any special favors.

“I believe in scouting, if you work hard someone will eventually take notice of that. That’s kind of the way it was,” he said, recalling the start of his career. “The old adage was, you’ve got to get out there and beat the bushes, BP, go to camps. There are a lot of good people in baseball. People will watch out for you, if you work hard.”
Paris spent two years as an associate with the San Diego Padres, then about nine months with the Los Angeles Angels and the past 16 years with the White Sox. He lives near Boone, Iowa, and covers Iowa and parts of Nebraska, South Dakota and northern Illinois for the White Sox.

He attends games and practices, goes to showcases, takes notes, meets with prospects, talks to them at the park or on the phone, just like all the other scouts.
“You just change your style a little bit,” he said. “Some ballparks are easily accessible, some aren’t. The terrain is rough, you know? But I’ve never fallen out of the chair or anything.”

He’s been in a wheelchair for 30 years.
“There’s a place for me in baseball, there’s a place for everybody in baseball,” he said. “Scouting, coaching, playing, managing, stats, whatever.

“I get paid to watch baseball,” he added with a smile. “The travel is a little hectic at times, but you just adjust to it.”
He’s refused to be bitter.

“There’s no point,” he said. “There’s never a bitterness about it.”
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