Big wishes answered

When young fan asks for homers from hero, they were delivered; now story goes on air

By Marlon W. Morgan

Sunday, June 8, 2008

When Bruce Nash created "Amazing Sports Stories," the half-dramatic movie, half-documentary show that began airing on Fox Sports Net in April, there was one story he knew had to be told.

It's the story of how former Houston Colt .45s third baseman Bob Aspromonte befriended a temporarily blinded 9-year-boy named Bill Bradley and hit not one, but three home runs at the request of Bradley, who's now a Memphian. Years later, Aspromonte nearly lost his eyesight when a car battery exploded in his face.

''It's really hard to mess up a story that's this good,'' said Nash, who came across the tale some 15 years ago when he co-authored the book, "The Greatest Sports Stories Never Told."

''It's just one of those stories that the more you get into it, the more amazing it becomes. You keep thinking, 'OK, when is this story going to go south,' and it doesn't.''

It will be told at 7 p.m. and 10 p.m. today, when this week's segment of "Amazing Sports Stories" features ''Bob Aspromonte: Blind Faith.''

The story began on a Friday afternoon, April 30, 1962, when Bradley was with his Little League baseball team in El Dorado, Ark. Suddenly, a thunderstorm rolled in. As the sky darkened, the players gathered up their equipment and headed toward a cast-iron water fountain, which was located under a big oak tree.

Bradley, the fastest player on the team, outran everyone, earning the right to take the first drink. While leaning over the fountain to quench his thirst, a lightning bolt struck the oak tree. Attracted to the water fountain, the bolt also struck Bradley on top of his head, going down the right side of his face, then neck and chest, before finally reaching the water fountain.

''It basically killed me,'' said Bradley, now a 55-year-old senior client associate for Merrill Lynch in Memphis. ''I started turning black and blue and fell back.''

Fortunately, his coach, Creed Nance, who worked for a local oil company, had taken a first aid course about a month earlier and was able to revive Bradley through CPR.

''The electricity fried the lens in my eyes like an egg, and melted a big glob of my hair and punctured my right ear drum,'' Bradley said.

Bradley awakened in the middle of the night and noticed his eyes ''felt like they had sand in them.'' It wasn't until the morning, though, that he realized he was blind.

After one ophthalmologist told Bradley's family they should make plans to teach their son Braille, they sought a second opinion. They were directed to Dr. Louis Girard, who was the chairman of ophthalmology at Baylor University College of Medicine in Houston and the founder of the Texas Eye Bank. Bradley was scheduled for a series of eye operations.

While awaiting his first operation, Bradley had become known as the ''Miracle Boy'' back in El Dorado. Press coverage of his survival of a lightning strike mentioned that Bradley idolized Aspromonte. He listened to all of the Colt .45s' games on the radio.

When he arrived at Houston's Methodist Hospital, none other than Aspromonte himself, along with a couple of his teammates, came to visit Bradley, giving him an autographed baseball, a pair of Colt 45 pajamas and a transistor radio to listen to the games.

As Aspromonte was leaving, Bradley asked if he could hit a home run for him, not really realizing that home runs weren't really Aspromonte's forte. He hit 60 in his 13-year career.

''A home run's a big deal in baseball,'' Bradley said. ''I just wanted him to hit me one.''

Dr. Girard allowed Bradley to go to the game, but he had to leave by 10 p.m. to rest for the next day's surgery. Aspromonte was 0-for-3 heading toward his final at-bat in the eighth inning. By that time, Bradley was back in his hospital bed, listening to the game on the radio. Aspromonte sent a 2-1 pitch over the fence as Colt .45 broadcaster Gene Elston yelled, ''This one's for you, Bill Bradley!''

The following year, when Bradley returned for another operation, he met with Aspromonte again. His eyesight had been partially restored. He asked Aspromonte if he would hit him another home run so he could see it this time.

With the score tied 2-2 in the bottom of the 10th, with two outs and the count full against the Chicago Cubs, Aspromonte hit a walk-off grand slam over the leftfield wall.

That same summer, Bradley returned for another visit to the Dr. Girard. Attending a game against the New York Mets, he asked Aspromonte for a third homer, to which Aspromonte told him he was pushing his luck.

This time, though, Aspromonte wasted no time granting Bradley's wish. He hit a first-inning grand slam.

''I guess that's what's so surprising and amazing about the whole thing is that I asked three times, and it happened three times,'' Bradley said.

Bradley's eyes eventually improved to the point that, with the help of contacts, he had 20-20 vision. A couple of years later, while pitching again in Little League, Bradley tossed a no-hitter. He told the El Dorado News Times that he did it for Aspromonte, and sent his hero a copy of the article.

Gradually, as Bradley got older, his contact with Aspromonte waned, other than occasional phone calls.

The two were intertwined again when, three years after Aspromonte retired from baseball, he was nearly blinded when a car battery exploded in his face. It took several surgeries -- by none other than Dr. Girard -- to restore 40 percent of his vision.

''The whole epilogue, when Bob Aspromonte is blinded in his eyes, it's like you couldn't make this up,'' Nash said. ''Truly, with this story, truth is stranger than fiction.

''The big leaguer, the little leaguer, the relationship the two of them had, the mutual support they had for each other in their time of crisis -- it's inspiring.''

The 30-minute show will features actors re-creating the events, along with interviews with Aspromonte, Bradley and others.

''I've watched several of the other shows and they've been good,'' Bradley said. ''I think that this story will, by far, be the best that's been on there because I really think there's a lot more to it than the others.''

-- Marlon W. Morgan: 529-2792

Amazing Sports Stories

When: 7 p.m. and 10 p.m. today.

Where: Fox Sports Net (ch. 25 on Comcast digital, ch. 40 on Comcast basic, ch. 664 on DirecTV, ch. 446 on Dish Network).