Marlon Byrd Still Believes in the Future

If Marlon Byrd is to start in center field this season, it likely won't be in Philadelphia. A trade, a season as a utility player, a return to the minors? They're all possibilities for Byrd. One thing is for sure though; This isn't the toughest battle he's ever faced.

Marlon Byrd has had an up and down time of life in the big leagues early in his career. At first, he was a highly prized prospect, who fans couldn't wait to see. Then, he arrived in Philly and was quite simply terrible. Before long though, he seemed to flip a switch and we all saw the type of player that Marlon Byrd could be.

When 2003 ended, Byrd had been able to pull his average all the way to .303, which was a major accomplishment considering how Byrd had struggled earlier in the season. That made Byrd - or at least, should have made Byrd - the Phillies center fielder for the foreseeable future. It didn't work that way.

The Phillies decided to bring Doug Glanville back into the fold. It seemed as though Glanville may be in Philly to work as a mentor to Byrd, but manager Larry Bowa refused to classify it as that kind of a relationship. Instead, Glanville was mentioned as a challenge to Byrd. Perhaps it was that challenge or perhaps, it was coincidence, but whatever it was, Byrd struggled. Glanville - and other utility players - were put into Byrd's spot in the lineup, while Byrd found himself back at Scranton.

Working with current Phillies manager Charlie Manuel, who was a minor league hitting instructor at the time, Byrd seemed to show some progress. He returned to the majors, but still didn't show the type of skills that he showed in 2003.

Now, Byrd's job was in definite jeopardy and the Phillies openly campaigned to replace him. Steve Finley turned them down and Carlos Beltran was simply too expensive. Finally, Kenny Lofton, who the Phillies had their eye on for a few seasons, became a Phillie. It cost them Felix Rodriguez, but they deemed it a move that they had to make. Now, the Phillies are openly shopping Byrd to other teams, but haven't found any definite takers.

If Byrd stays in Philadelphia, he will have a battle on his hands. No matter how intense the battle may get, it won't compare to a battle that Byrd fought and won eight years ago.

He was a sophomore at Georgia Tech and had pain in his leg. The pain became so intense that it was impossible for Byrd to sleep, let alone function. He wound up in surgery, where doctors discovered an infection that had caused swelling in the anterior tibialis muscle. That swelling had cut off circulation to the leg, putting Byrd in great danger. There was a decision to be made in the operating room that day; did Marlon Byrd, a budding ballplayer at Georgia Tech, have to have his leg amputated? Doctors decided against the amputation, deciding instead, to give Byrd a fighting chance. Fight he did. Byrd, was given very little chance of ever walking again and no chance of playing baseball again. Obviously, he beat the odds on both ends.

Even as his leg was healing though, Byrd was facing another challenge. His weight had ballooned to 315. He couldn't really work out or excercise and it looked as though even if his leg did heal, he would be so out of shape, his career would still be over.

He transferred to Georgia Perimeter College. A much smaller school, but one that had an impressive baseball program, considering its size. After two years, the 21 year old Byrd finally picked up a baseball bat and returned to the field. His weight problem had been put behind him as he had dropped 90 pounds to return to his usual college playing weight. His leg was in good shape and he was ready to go. Being at a smaller school removed some of the pressure that he had faced earlier and made it all more fun. Byrd completely turned things around. The guy who had come so close to having his leg amputated was now stealing bases with abandon.

The rest is history. Byrd was drafted by the Phillies, partly because of his mental toughness. He put up impressive minor league numbers and moved through the system. His reputation preceeded him until his arrival in the majors, just under six years after his leg surgery.

The mental part of battling for his baseball career will be no problem for Marlon Byrd. Whether it's in Philadelphia or elsewhere, the 27 year old will battle. The Phillies seem determined to go with Lofton and there are any numbers of young center fielders moving through the system. Perhaps that mythical change of scenery would be the best possible conclusion for Byrd. However it plays out though, don't bet against Byrd becoming the player that many fans, scouts and other baseball experts once thought he could be.

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