Commentary

Scott Atchison keeps it in perspective

Red Sox reliever finds inspiration in ailing 3-year-old daughter

Updated: September 4, 2010, 1:38 PM ET
By Gordon Edes | ESPNBoston.com

BALTIMORE -- He is a humble man in a humble job. The hair graying, the wardrobe modest, the voice never raised.

If there is a crowd around his locker, that usually means something has gone wrong, like Saturday night in Tropicana Field, when Scott Atchison gave up a walkoff home run to Tampa Bay's Dan Johnson in a game the Boston Red Sox could ill afford to lose.

[+] EnlargeScott Atchison
Michael Ivins/Boston Red Sox/Getty ImagesBeing closer to his ailing daughter's doctors was a big reason Scott Atchison returned to the U.S. after playing in Japan the past two seasons.

Otherwise, he generally goes little noticed. As a middle reliever, Atchison's role is not meant for spotlight moments. Of the 31 times he has been summoned out of the bullpen this season, Atchison has been used only seven times when the Sox have been either tied or ahead by fewer than two runs. He rarely pitches when the game hangs in the balance, like Jonathan Papelbon or Daniel Bard. His job is to keep a game close if the Sox are behind, or, if the Sox are comfortably ahead, to keep it that way.

That's not a formula for building an archive of "SportsCenter" moments.

Still, there are other ways to measure success. It is September, and the 34-year-old Atchison, who came back after two good seasons in Japan, is approaching the finish line of a big league season that was never promised to him and threatened to be short-circuited several times along the way.

A 49th-round draft choice after rotator-cuff surgery in college threatened to end his career before it began, Atchison had since pitched just a total of 68 innings in the big leagues, over parts of three seasons. That was one of the reasons he came back, to prove that he could pitch here.

That he has done, even starting once when Daisuke Matsuzaka was a last-minute scratch before a scheduled start against the Dodgers.

"I felt like I could do this,'' Atchison said Thursday night, after one of those rare crowd-around-his-locker moments inspired by a positive outcome, two scoreless innings of relief work that included stranding the tying run on base in a 6-4 Red Sox win over the Orioles.

"I knew I could pitch up here, and if I was given a chance to stay around long enough and show what I could do, I could do it.''

But that was only one reason he came back. There's a blonde 3-year-old who had a lot to do with it, too.

"My wife sent me a message last night that my daughter was watching,'' Atchison said. "My daughter's old enough now where she sees Daddy on TV. My wife told me, 'She was yelling at you and saying hi.' She told my wife I could hear her.''

The daughter's name is Callie. There was a Broadway musical years ago entitled "Your Arms Too Short to Box with God." That's Callie. She has a rare genetic disorder known as thrombocytopenia-absent radius (TAR).

You know that bone that runs from your elbow to your thumb? Callie is missing hers, in both arms. The story of her illness was told this spring in detail in the Boston Globe.

Atchison and his wife, Sarah, decided they had to return from Japan so that Callie could receive continuing medical treatment from her doctors in Dallas. She had surgery in January. His first week in Boston, Atchison said, the Red Sox lined him up at Massachusetts General Hospital with a physical therapist for Callie.

And how has that been working out?

"She's doing great,'' he said. "It's mostly physical therapy and occupational therapy, small motor skills and stuff.

"She's really getting better with her thumbs," Atchison said. "That was the big concern, her thumb strength. But she can take her chopsticks and pick things up with them. They're the little helper kids' ones, but still, I don't how many 3-year-olds who can do that.''

Because her arms are shorter, Atchison said, she also has some problems with balance. Her legs are also bowed, and when they go see her doctor in November, it's possible that she might need leg braces or another procedure.

"But whatever's going on, it's not slowing her down,'' Callie's dad said. "She's always in a good mood and always running around in circles.

"She's a ball of energy, which is great. It's fun to watch. Things are good.''

Things are good, even when are there are times they may look like they're not.

"Any time you have a wife and a kid, things change,'' he said. "I go away from the field, and this all kind of stays here.

"When I come here, it's baseball, and you always have it in your mind. It's all about taking care of business out there. But you have a good night, you kind of forget about it, go home and ask the wife, 'How did the day go?' You have a bad night, you do the same thing.

"I feel like I've learned that a walkoff home run is not the end of the world.''

Gordon Edes covers the Red Sox for ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter.

Gordon Edes

Red Sox reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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