Wheelchair-bound ‘Padre for Life’ signs 20th contract after heart attack, TBI

mlbf_73027383_th_45It’s a short drive from the Barona Indian Reservation to San Diego’s Petco Park, but the man dubbed a “Padre for Life” will always know he’s at home in both places. For the last 20 years straight, former Padres top prospect Matt LaChappa has found himself at the receiving end of a vow that the Padres team leadership made to the young man after his suffering a heart attack and subsequent Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) that’s left him wheelchair-bound and barely capable of the most basic of everyday tasks.

Built like a buggy whip, as reported by the Orange County Register and also by KGTV of San Diego, it was a lanky young Matt LaChappa who stood 6-foot-3 and with a wicked 95 mile per hour fastball when he was the second-round 1993 draft choice of his hometown Padres. Tragically, his playing time was cut short while prepping for the 1996 season with the Minor League Single A (Long Season) affiliate, the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes, just a few hours drive from his boyhood home in the eastern mountains of San Diego County.

During a cool April evening back in ’96 with his parents sitting in the stands, LaChappa was warming up in the bullpen for the Quakes prepping to enter the game in relief. It was then Matt suddenly clutched his chest as he collapsed into a heap. As reported, it was Team Trainer Jim Daniels who ran to his side and immediately began administering CPR. Daniels continued for a full 20 minutes until local 911 dispatchers “finally decided which emergency unit to send.”

LaChappa had suffered a major heart attack. Later, in the hospital, he was struck with a second cardiac. “What happened,” says Priscilla Oppenheimer, the Padres’ director of minor-league operations at the time, “is that he had a virus around his heart. He’d just undergone a physical, too, but something like that can only be picked up on an ecocardiogram.”

As his father, Clifford LaChappa stated, “What happened to Matt, for some unknown reason, his heart defibrillated…” As MLB.com also reported, Clifford was also quoted, “When it happened, the heart didn’t pump enough oxygen to his brain. But he can talk, he can kick, he can speak, but it’s slow. There’s rigidness, stiffness and he’s unable to walk. But he knows what’s going on. We watch the games together.”

The elder LaChappa continued, “When this first happened, we weren’t sure if he was going to live or die, but the Padres made such a commitment to making Matt a Padre for life. For them to do that, it shows you that sports aren’t just about winning, it’s also about caring for the players.” Video of Matt’s latest visit to his team seen here.

Ever since Matt’s injuries back in 1996, the San Diego Padres have ensured Matt LaChappa was signed to a rookie contract each and every year. As the Orange County Register’s reporter Steve Bisheff penned, “Each year, they have re-signed him to a basic minor-league contract, just like the one they renewed again recently, not only providing him with some much-needed cash but, more important, allowing him to maintain his insurance so he can continue to receive quality care.”

With emphasis his, Bisheff adds, “The team doesn’t have to do this. It wants to do this.”