Pirates Notebook: LaRoche recalls Challis as 'special to me'

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ST. LOUIS -- It did not take long for Adam LaRoche to take a liking to John Challis on that June 25 afternoon that Challis, the Freedom youngster stricken with cancer, spent with the Pirates at PNC Park.

And it did not take long yesterday for LaRoche to show visible emotion at the news that Challis died.

"It's depressing, man," he said in the Pirates' Busch Stadium clubhouse. "It makes you realize how short life is and how unfair it can be. But I think what's cool is that, even with what he had, he chose to make the best of it and touch a lot of lives that he wouldn't have if this hadn't happened to him. He got the bad end of the deal, but he touched a lot of people. For sure, he touched the 25 people in here."

LaRoche paused.

"He was special to me."

LaRoche and Challis connected on that June day by discussing a mutual love of baseball, as well as hunting. LaRoche generally keeps plenty of hunting devices at his locker stall, and Challis clearly relished hearing about all of them.

From there, the two spoke regularly by phone. Three weeks ago, when the Challis family informed LaRoche that John likely had two weeks or so to live, LaRoche placed one last call to invite John to go hunting on his Kansas ranch this winter.

Minor-league report
Tuesday's games

INDIANAPOLIS (62-69) lost at Charlotte, 4-3. RHP Ross Ohlendorf (3-4, 3.86) allowed four runs and six hits in six innings. He struck out seven, walked two and threw 62 of 97 pitches for strikes. RF Chris Duffy (.250), in his first game with Indianapolis since being option, went 1 for 4. 3B Neil Walker (.237) went 1 for 4. 2B Jose Bautista (.375) and CF Andrew McCutchen (.277) each went 0 for 4.

ALTOONA (59-71) beat Portland, 7-6. RHP Dan Reichert (2-3, 4.81) allowed three runs and four hits in six innings. CF Jose Tabata (.264) went 2 for 4. 1B Jamie Romak (.217) hit his 24th home run, sixth with the Curve and a three-run shot, and went 1 for 4.

LYNCHBURG (50-77) won at Frederick, 5-4, in 10 innings. LHP Brian Holliday (5-10, 5.23) allowed two runs and eight hits in eight innings. He struck out nine, walked none. LF Jared Keel (.231) went 3 for 5.

HICKORY (48-80) won at Lexington, 8-2. RHP Rodolfo Aguirre (2-3, 4.39) pitched six scoreless innings and allowed two hits. He struck out seven, walked three. CF Keanon Simon (.237) went 4 for 6 with two RBIs.

STATE COLLEGE (11-45) was off.

BRADENTON (32-17) was off.

"He was going to come out for a couple days, and I was going to put him on a deer," LaRoche said. "I knew the chances weren't real good that he would make it and ... it didn't work out. God had another plan for him."

It was Pirates manager John Russell who summoned LaRoche in the afternoon to inform him.

Challis sat in Russell's office as "manager for a day" on that June day.

"What John brought all of us, for the day he was with us, the courage he showed, the message he had, it's something we'll never forget," Russell said. "The number of lives that he touched in a short period of time is phenomenal. I think if he was sitting here today, if he could talk to us, he would say don't fret. He did all he wanted to do."

Mientkiewicz's wife mending

Utilityman Doug Mientkiewicz's wife, Jodi, was resting at the family's Pittsburgh home yesterday after surgery Monday to install a pacemaker that doctors hope will address a viral infection in the heart.

Russell, a longtime friend of the Mientkiewicz family, said Jodi Mientkiewicz is in "some pain" because doctors did not allow pain medication, "but everything seems to be going as well as expected. The doctors told us it went perfect.."

The upper part of the heart was fine, but its signals to the lower part were being blocked because of an infection in the electrical bridge known as the atrioventricular node. As a result, the heart rate had slowed at times to 35 beats per minute, remarkably low, in the past week.

Initially, doctors feared heart failure, but an MRI found the infection "which the doctor said you couldn't have put a bullet or a needle in a worse spot," Russell said.

If the pacemaker succeeds in pumping the usual amount of blood, doctors are confident the infection will take care of itself.

And how has the Pirates' emotional leader been taking this?

"Obviously, Doug was not good before this," Russell said. "I think the whole team was not good, especially me, because he's almost like a second son to me."

Buried treasure

• Left fielder Brandon Moss had had a highly encouraging afternoon, running and hitting without further swelling in his sprained left ankle. He remains on track to play Friday.

Nate McLouth benched for Nyjer Morgan again? No, not again. McLouth was ill, and Morgan, freshly recalled from Class AAA Indianapolis, took his place. McLouth will be reevaluated today.

Freddy Sanchez, batting .372 in his past 20 starts, was replaced at second base by Luis Rivas. "Just a day off," Russell said.


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