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Michael Lorenzen: one of the best sports stories of the year

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Outside of Fullerton, Calif. and Cincinnati, Ohio, few people are familiar with the name of Michael Lorenzen. That should change beginning on Saturday and throughout the coming days.

Lorenzen is a relief pitcher for the Reds with a mid-to-high 90s fastball. After opening the season on the disabled list, he has now appeared in 30 games with a 2.17 earned run average and struck out 31 batters in 29 innings.

Pitchers succeed at the plate from time to time and some actually hit that rare home run. Add Lorenzen to that list.

On Friday night he hit a three-run homer against the Los Angeles Dodgers. His seventh-inning blast put the game out of reach, putting the Reds ahead, 9-1.

But this was far more than a pitcher hitting a home run. In fact, it may be one of the best sports stories – or human interest stories – of the season.

Lorenzen was an outstanding athlete at Fullerton Union High School. The Rays’ scouting staff had him on their radar as a teenager, selecting him in the seventh round of the 2010 draft.

He chose instead to attend Cal State Fullerton and had a stellar college career as a center fielder and closer. The Reds chose him in the first round with the 38th overall pick in the 2013 draft.

By 2015 he was making his major league debut as a middle reliever. His injury in the spring delayed his season, but has come on to pitch well.

Lorenzen is a devout Christian, which he credits for getting him through tough times. Both of his parents were alcoholics.

His father, Cliff, talked to him about having fun with baseball and enjoying music. One of Michael’s father-son memories was Cliff taking him to a Who concert as a youngster. Cliff was described as a Who fanatic.

On Monday, Michael was placed on the “Bereavement” list, meaning he would be away from the team due to a death in the family. The reason was not given.

He came off the list on Friday and was inserted into the game in the seventh inning as the Dodgers mounted a rally. Only then was it revealed that Cliff had died.

As Michael came to the mound, “Who Are You” by the Who blared over the PA system. He got out of the jam.

In the bottom of the seventh, he stepped to the plate with two runners on and two out. It would be only his third at-bat of the season.

On his first pitch, the Dodgers’ Pedro Baez let loose with a 97 mile per hour fastball. Lorenzen put on a swing that looked every bit as good as one Evan Longoria might provide.

The ball landed six rows into the right-centerfield bleachers some 398 feet away. As Lorenzen rounded the bases, he was having enormous difficulty with his emotions. As he crossed the plate, he pointed toward the sky.

Every member of the Reds greeted him, but friend and backup catcher Ramon Cabrera was the last in line. It was at that point Lorenzen let it all out.

“That kind of moment, you have to let it out,” Cabrera said after the game.

Losing a parent is tough for anyone, but for athletes, their sanctuary is on the field. Brett Favre’s emotional and incredible 399-yard, four TD performance the day after his father died comes to mind.

“I was humbled by everything and just so happy, my family needed that,” Lorenzen told MLB.com. “It was just a great feeling to be able to do that.”

For someone like Reds’ manager Bryan Price, the realization of what had happened was still surreal. He used the term “divine intervention.”

“If you’re around baseball and you’ve been here long enough, you’ll see all sorts of things that you think you’ll never see again or you thought you’d never see,” Price told Fox Sports Ohio. “This falls under that heading. I never thought I would see something like that; as majestic and poetic and emotional as that moment.”

If Lorenzen were as famous and accomplished as Favre, the sporting world would know about what happened on Friday. Over time this story will be told over and over again.

Wouldn’t it be nice to replace the Ryan Lochte story with that of Michael Lorenzen?

 

Bob Sparks is President of Ramos and Sparks Group, a Tallahassee-based business and political consulting firm. During his career, he has directed media relations and managed events for professional baseball, served as chief spokesperson for the Republican Party of Florida as well as the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the Attorney General of Florida. After serving as Executive Deputy Chief of Staff for Governor Charlie Crist, he returned to the private sector working with clients including the Republican National Committee and political candidates in Japan. He lives in Tallahassee with his wife, Sue and can be reached at Bob@ramos-sparks.com.

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