Baseball team renews contract with disabled Barona Band man

Matt LaChappa. Photo from Facebook

The San Diego Padres continue to keep a promise to Matt LaChappa, a member of the Barona Band of Mission Indians in California who has been confined to a wheelchair since 1996.

LaChappa first signed with the Padres in 1993. At the time, the team's then-CEO promised his family that he would always take care of the budding young pitcher.

"Matt was looked up to by everyone in the community," Priscilla Oppenheimer, the team's director of minor league operations, said in a 2005 article for The Orange County Register. "When he signed, about half the tribe came in for the ceremony."

Tragedy struck in 1996 when LaChappa collapsed as he was preparing to enter the field. He had suffered a heart attack, which was followed by another one at the hospital.

"What happened is that he had a virus around his heart," Oppenheimer told the Register. "He'd just undergone a physical, too, but something like that can only be picked up on an ecocardiogram."

But rather than cut LaChappa, Oppenheimer has continued to renew his minor league contract so that he can maintain his health insurance coverage. The team signed him for another year, USA Today confirmed.

"They’ve said he’ll be a Padre for the rest of his life, and they’ve allowed him to keep a certain level of care," Matt's brother, Eagle LaChappa, told USA Today.

The LaChappa family has established a scholarship to help college-bound athletes in the area. More than 120 students have benefited from the Matthew LaChappa Athletic Scholarship Foundation.

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The Padres have signed a wheelchair-bound ex-pitcher for 20 straight years (USA Today 4/8)

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