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Bryce Florie: When bad things happen to good people

Before Friday night, only the most careful baseball observers knew who Bryce Florie was. Even those scattered rotisserie league fanatics who recognized the name could place him only as one of dozens of faceless relief pitchers who toil nearly anonymously in the major leagues. It's quite likely none of those fans could pick him out of a lineup. And it's equally likely Bryce Florie wishes now he could return to that kind of major-league anonymity.

I spent the summer of 1999 working for the Boston Red Sox. My job writing articles for the team Web site was not particularly high profile or glamorous - none of the articles even had my name on them - but it did provide me with more than three months of access to the Red Sox clubhouse.

The experience was educational in many ways. I fine-tuned the art of holding off on postgame clubhouse interviews until the subject has had time to towel off and put on his pants. I confirmed my suspicion that sportswriters will wear any free clothing they can get their grubby hands on, fashion be damned. I learned long road trips sometimes force ballplayers like Trot Nixon to wear the mustard-yellow sport coat because that's the only clean one left.

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    Yet perhaps my most startling discovery was that a lot of pro athletes are just regular guys. Oh sure, not every player in that less-than-spacious clubhouse was a saint, but manager Jimy Williams and players like Nixon, Damon Buford, Brian Rose and Jason Varitek surprised me with their willingness to relate to an insignificant intern like myself.

    Florie, though, went a step further. Acquired from Detroit at the July 31 trading deadline, he was only in Boston for three weeks before my internship ended. But in that time he managed to become the only player all summer to strike up an actual conversation with me. Our exchange -- conducted in the dugout a few hours before game time some Saturday morning soon after he came over from the Tigers - consisted of a brief bit of small talk about the city of Boston and how he was adjusting. It was not a soul-baring revelation of hopes and dreams, but it was a pleasant reminder that many of the athletes who populate the world of professional sports don't fit the stereotype of the spoiled millionaire.

    Friday night, Bryce Florie's face was crushed by a baseball traveling more than 110 miles per hour. A ninth-inning line drive off the bat of New York Yankees outfielder Ryan Thompson hit Florie near his right eye, fracturing the socket in three places and severely damaging the retina as well as the eyeball itself. He is not assured of having normal sight out of that eye ever again.

    Professional athletes generally are accustomed to the sight of injured teammates, but no one Friday could stomach the sight of Florie lying face down on the mound, kicking his legs up and down as he writhed in agony. The Red Sox were in shock. Tears streamed down the face of Yankees infielder Jose Vizcaino - the most visible signs of a moment in which even the Boston-New York rivalry was forgotten.

    After about a minute, Florie sat up in the midst of a cluster of concerned onlookers, his right cheek, nose and upper lip covered in blood. He left for Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary, where he underwent nearly two hours of surgery Saturday morning to relieve pressure on the eye. The post-op news was decidedly mixed, with the Red Sox team physician announcing, "The prognosis for reasonable vision is guarded." Four days later, doctors predict Florie will regain sight in that eye, but he is by no means out of the proverbial woods yet.

    Bryce Florie stands 5-foot-11 and weighs 192 pounds. He is a single, 30-year-old guy with no children. He owns a 20-23 career record and a 4.34 lifetime ERA. He is a regular guy with an irregular right arm.

    Unless you nurse an obsession with one of the four teams he has pitched for in his seven-year, big-league career (Milwaukee and San Diego round out the quartet), you likely have never heard of him. Now he is an odds-on favorite to join Herb Score and Dick Pole on the list of major-league pitchers whose careers were snatched away by one perfectly awful marriage of bat and ball.

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