Derrek Lee has a daughter who suffers from a rare vision disorder known as Leber's Congenital Amaurosis (LCA), and he and his teammates have spent much time, effort and money trying to raise awareness about the disease.
Dr. Edwin Stone, director of the University of Iowa Carver Family Center for Macular Degeneration, says that Lee and the Cubs have done wonders with their efforts.
"It's just incredible how many people have become aware of LCA and other blinding eye diseases as a result of the Project 3000 (Lee's foundation) effort," Stone told MLB.com.
In January, Lee will help to further that message when the television show "ER" will air an episode about LCA. Lee had previously made a cameo appearance on "ER" in October.
Many of Lee's teammates, including free-agent Kerry Wood, have done their fair share, too. In July, Wood donated proceeds from his annual bowling tournament that raised more than $320,000 to Project 3000.
"We've got a family member in need," said Wood. "We thought this was the right thing to do."
Braves prospect Schafer warrants a fall visit from Cox: The Braves have a big hole to fill in center field with the departure of Andruw Jones via free agency. But they have a star in the making in the Minor Leagues in Jordan Schafer. The 21-year-old had a breakout year in the Single-A Florida State League last season and followed that up with a strong season in the Arizona Fall League, where he hit .324 with a .395 on-base percentage in 26 games.
"Defensively, I feel, truthfully, like I could play in the big leagues and be one of the best outfielders there [now]," Schafer told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
"Offensively, I still have a bunch of stuff to work on," he said. "Pitch recognition, swinging at more strikes, cutting down on strikeouts, being more efficient at stealing bases, stuff like that. I've just got to keep working."
Schafer's play was so strong in Arizona that it prompted a visit from manager Bobby Cox.
"I had only read about him and heard about him [before last week]," Cox said. "I can tell you this: He's got an above average arm, double-above-average accuracy, he runs above average, he fields above average, and he led all the Minor Leagues in hits."
Schafer is slated to open the 2008 season in Double-A, but the Braves will promote him as soon as he proves ready, as they believe he is a future star.
"Hard work, dedication and passion for the game -- he has all three of them," Myrtle Beach manager Rocket Wheeler said of Schafer, who was voted the top prospect in the Carolina League by managers. "He's an outstanding player who's got a chance to be a superstar."
Lefty Rusch eschews the couch, opts for mound: After sitting out the 2007 season while recuperating from a blood clot in his right lung, Glendon Rusch is back throwing again and he hopes to resume his Major League career.
The cure for the clot was blood-thinning medication, which made it impossible for Rusch to pitch. If he had been hit with a line drive, it could have been fatal due to the medication.
"I thought I probably would not come back," Rusch told the Seattle Times. "I really prepared myself to not play again. I didn't want to get my hopes up. I just prepared myself to retire."
However, in August doctors cleared Rusch to return to baseball. He has been throwing at West Coast Sports Management facilities in Pasadena, in front of scouts from more than half of all of the teams in Major League Baseball.
"I'm very excited," Rusch said. "It's been a real fun couple of months, getting going again, especially getting back on the mound. It's a good feeling after the time off. I literally didn't pick up a ball for 10 or 11 months."
A lefty who can both start and relieve, Rusch should have no lack of suitors for his services.
"There's a lot of interest, and the club he decides to sign with is going to have a completely healthy left-handed pitcher who will be a solid contributor," said Dan Evans, the former Mariners executive who recently left the club to become president and CEO of West Coast Sports Management.
Rusch suffered the same ailment as Rockies pitcher Aaron Cook did. Cook successfully came back to start Game 4 of the World Series.
"My blood is the same as it was before I went on the blood thinners," Rusch said. "I asked my doctor the difference in my risk between playing and not playing. He said, 'Absolutely nothing. There's no more risk pitching in a game as watching TV on a couch. In fact, there might be risk on the couch because you're not exercising.'"
Second baseman Gonzalez joins brother on Padres: The San Diego Padres have signed Edgar Gonzalez, the older brother of Adrian Gonzalez, to a Minor League contract. Edgar Gonzalez hit .308 with eight home runs and 53 RBIs for Triple-A Memphis last season.
Gonzalez received offers from some other teams, but the chance to play in San Diego with his brother appealed to him.
"I knew that with the Padres, there wasn't a set second baseman," Gonzalez told Padres.com. "There are a lot of good players, but not a set player there like there was last year."
The Padres currently don't have a player slated to start at second base in 2008. Marcus Giles was not offered a contract and Geoff Blum, who started at second for much of the second half in 2007, has signed a one-year deal with the Houston Astros.
"Being from San Diego, being able to play with Adrian, I think it's the best opportunity for me," Gonzalez said. "As someone who has been in the Minor Leagues for so long, I have to look at the best opportunity."
Solid adjustment will make a starter of Chamberlain: When the New York Yankees head to Spring Training, the plan for now is to have Joba Chamberlain report as a starting pitcher. Chamberlain joined the Yankees in July this past season and was used as a reliever, where he went 2-0 with a 0.38 ERA in 19 appearances with one save.
But Chamberlain has been a starter throughout the Minors, and new Yankees pitching coach Dave Eiland said the club believes that is where he would better serve the team.
"He's a four-pitch guy," Eiland told Yankees.com. "Right now, three of those four pitches are above-average Major League pitches -- his fastball, his slider, his curveball. His changeup was in the development process when he got converted to the bullpen late in the summer, but it was coming along very quickly and very nicely. I'd say it's an average Major League changeup right now, and it's going to be above average."
There is still a chance Chamberlain could wind up in the bullpen, but that is only if the young right-hander can't make the adjustment back to a starter.
"It's going to be an adjustment, more mental than anything," Eiland said. "I think Joba's not that far removed from starting. There was an adjustment for him going from starting to relieving, but as we all know, that was a very smooth adjustment."
Granderson going back to school: Curtis Granderson is making the most of his offseason, and this week he will speak to student athletes at Southern Methodist University in Dallas about things that have helped him to be a success, including time management, stress management, nutrition, goal-setting, and a commitment to education.
"I'm really nervous," Granderson told the Detroit Free Press. "I don't want to see people with their heads down, yawning. I have to prepare. I have to know exactly what I want to do. And I have to be able to adjust. In that way, it's similar to playing."
After doing some analysis on television during the 2007 post-season, Granderson should be a bit more prepared for this type of engagement. Not so fast, he says.
"My palms got completely sweaty," Granderson said of his debut on television. "I was more nervous than I'd ever been. It brought me back to that first big-league at-bat."
White Sox hope for leadership from Cabrera: With their acquisition of shortstop Orlando Cabrera, the Chicago White Sox are hoping they get more than a solid player on the field -- they're also hoping that Cabrera can provide them with some leadership off the field, too.
"There is a whole lot more to him than his stats would indicate," analyst Steve Stone, who worked the Angels-Red Sox playoff series last month, told the Chicago Sun-Times. "His baseball acumen is off the charts. The White Sox have to get smarter and faster, and with all the quiet guys they have on the team, they could use a leader on the field every day."
Cabrera, in his own words describes himself as a fun-loving guy: "People in Montreal thought I was crazy because I was the one doing all the jokes in the dugout. ... I learned that from Ozzie Guillen when he was [a coach] in Montreal. He would say, 'Just joke around and have fun.' It's hard to have fun on a team like that because you don't know where you're going and you know you're losing every day. There's nothing fun about that."
As for the present, Cabrera is ready to take the field.
"It can't be better for me," he said. "It's going to be a great, great, great challenge playing for one of the best shortstops from the '80s all the way to the '90s. It's going to be awesome for me. I know he's going to challenge me every single day, and I love that."
Orioles' Walker continues to lend a hand: Jamie Walker likes to give back to the community, and has done so in many different ways since arriving on the scene. In addition to donating money to U.S. Army Emergency Relief Fund for some time, he also has arranged to secure luxury box to entertain groups of homecoming veterans.
Walker, who was named Baltimore's nominee for the Roberto Clemente Award, has also bought blocks of tickets for underprivileged children. He says it's something that he's moved to do.
"I felt once I started making some money, you're supposed to tithe," Walker, speaking of his religious commitment, told MLB.com. "But I don't really go to church because, with baseball, we play every Sunday. The way I can tithe is with some of my money and some of my time to good organizations like the Army Relief Fund and by buying tickets for underprivileged kids."
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.