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Dan Shaughnessy

Challenges put in perspective

By Dan Shaughnessy
Globe Columnist / October 26, 2007

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Something tells me Rockies manager Clint Hurdle is a guy who can deal with a 13-1 loss in the first game of the World Series. He knows it's not the end of the world. He knows there are other things more important. He has all the perspective any baseball man will ever need.

He has his 5-year-old daughter, Madison.

Madison Hurdle has Prader-Willi Syndrome, a rare genetic disorder. It makes Madison different from other kids. Symptoms include low muscle tone, development delays, morbid obesity, cognitive disabilities, and behavioral problems. She also suffers epileptic seizures. During the playoffs, when the Rockies were in Arizona, Madison developed pneumonia and went to Children's Hospital in Denver. Hurdle's wife, Karla, kept it a secret from her husband for a few days. Madison is back home now.

Before the World Series, Hurdle was asked, "What has your daughter Madison taught you?"

"This doesn't need to be a Dr. Phil show," the manager started, "but as I said before, her purpose in life, and I think the purpose of many special-needs children in people's lives, can be a dynamic, that if you don't have one, you'll have no understanding. It's a very special fraternity or sorority to enter into. You don't raise your hand and get to the front of the list. But once it happens, you're in."

It's a big club. Every family is handed challenges, some more than others. Talk to Doug and Laurie Flutie about their autistic son, Dougie. Parents of a girl like Madison learn to lean on other parents who have kids with similar disorders. They learn from their children and they teach the rest of us. And they tend not to get hung up on things like a lopsided loss in a World Series game.

Think Clint Hurdle is going to lose sleep because of hate mail, lineup second-guessers on talk radio, or a humiliating loss in a World Series game? Think again. He knows what really matters.

It was, therefore, no surprise that Hurdle and his players said all the right things after Wednesday's beating and again before Game 2 last night at Fenway Park.

"We're playing in the World Series," said veteran Todd Helton. "We're not going to hang our heads no matter what happens in this thing."

"We know exactly where we are," said the manager. "We know exactly what happened last night. We lived it, we wore it, and we've showered it off. Short-term memory is very, very important in this game. One of the strengths of our ball club, as I mentioned, is the ability to honestly self-evaluate and move on. We didn't do that many things well last night."

He knows this is only baseball. He knows that on a daily basis, his wife is the one with the stressful, high-pressure job. The caretaker of a child with Madison's symptoms doesn't get a lot of free time to read the newspaper or go out for lunch with the other moms. It's nonstop vigilance and exhaustion. But the rewards can be great.

"It's like many things in life," said Hurdle. "You look for good, you're going to find good; you look for bad, you're going to find bad. There's a period where you need to get through the grieving, the challenges, that big picture of the unknown, and then, you know, it's kind of like, 'How do you eat an elephant?' One bite at a time. With Maddie, it's one day at a time."

One day at a time. With no promise or guarantee that it will ever get better. Just great joy in the smallest of triumphs.

"At the end of the day, Karla and I look at each other and say, 'Did Maddie have a good day?' " said Hurdle. "And when Maddie has a good day, everybody has a good day."

So maybe Maddie had a good day Wednesday. And maybe when Clint Hurdle talked to his wife after the 13-1 beating at Fenway, he heard about smiles from his little girl. And maybe that was quite a bit more important than how badly his team looked in the first game of the World Series.

Hard not to root for a guy like that.

Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at dshaughnessy@globe.com.

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