HOUSTON -- In the worst of times, when Astros reliever Joe Musgrove would sit by his dad's hospital bed night after night and watch him struggle to stay alive, he couldn't begin to envision an impossibly sweet weekend like the one he's about to have.Musgrove was 15 years old in
HOUSTON -- In the worst of times, when Astros reliever Joe Musgrove would sit by his dad's hospital bed night after night and watch him struggle to stay alive, he couldn't begin to envision an impossibly sweet weekend like the one he's about to have.
Musgrove was 15 years old in 2008, a sophomore in high school in San Diego, a kid forced to grow up in a hurry. Back then, he could not see much past what was right in front of him: providing whatever relief he could for his father, sometimes by massaging the knots out of his hands and fingers, other times by rolling him onto his side for back rubs.
When a kid has gone through something like that, he's changed forever. His father, Mark Musgrove, had been a San Diego cop for two decades, a man who prided himself on his work and providing for his family and doing things a certain way.
And then it was all taken away by an autoimmune deficiency called Guillain-Barre syndrome that would eventually leave Mark Musgrove paralyzed from the neck down for almost two years.
Let's not get ahead of ourselves. This story has a happy ending, and no player in baseball is likely to have a Players Weekend as joyous as this one will be for Joe Musgrove.
Not only will the Astros be in Anaheim, a couple of hours north of his boyhood home, but his dad, Mark, will be there along with the entire family and an assortment of friends.
When Joe Musgrove learned the Players Weekend uniforms -- the ones with the playful nicknames on the back -- would also have a shoulder patch for a personal message, he couldn't wait to write: Mark Musgrove.
Joe Musgrove is like millions of other kids in that the seeds of his love of baseball and the career that followed were planted with front-yard games of catch and drives to practices and games and all the rest.
"He was the one that gave me my love for baseball," Musgrove said of his father. "He taught me how to play the game. He didn't make a ton of money, but he made sure I had the nice stuff and taught me how important it was to keep it clean and take good care of it and be professional as a young kid."
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When his dad became ill, baseball became an escape for Joe, who will wear "Moose" on the back of his jersey for Players Weekend. It's a nickname he was given in high school.
"I always loved baseball," he said. "But I realized just how important it was for me as an outlet. I was so negative, so depressed. I wasn't doing my schoolwork and stuff. I was spending most of my time at the hospital with him, and the two and a half, three hours a day where I got to leave the hospital and go to the field was the only time where I didn't really think about it.
"Baseball was the one thing that never changed for me. Everything else in my life seemed to be kind of falling down. My grades were struggling. My dad wasn't doing well. Baseball allowed me that same feeling of joy and happiness when I couldn't find it anywhere else."
Musgrove also understands now there was some silver lining in the experience.
"Everything really brought our family close together," he said. "My mom was trying to work and bring in money because my dad couldn't. I'd spend the nights with my dad at the hospital, and my mom and sister would come in the morning and spend the day with him. My other sister was off working making a little extra money to help pay the bills. Everyone was trying to do their part. It brought our family together."
Musgrove's father, now 60, works as a private investigator in San Diego, and while he still has trouble doing some physical tasks, he's able to drive and pursue his career.
One other thing Mark Musgrove and Joe's mother, Diane, are doing: watching every Astros game. Joe Musgrove began the season in the club's rotation, but he has emerged as a dominant reliever, with a 96 mph fastball and eight scoreless appearances this month.
"Oh, it means the world to him," Joe said. "This was his dream, and I'm getting to live it for him. He's thrilled to be living through me. I call him at the end of the day and tell him what goes on in the clubhouse and how the flights and hotel rooms are -- all the things he would have loved to do.
"You can hear the joy in his voice when I call him up. They're so into it, I feel like they take it harder than I do when I have a bad outing. But the support system from them never changes."
Joe Musgrove said watching his dad suffer and then ultimately get better has changed his perspective in so many ways he'll probably spend the rest of his life figuring it all out.
"I had to mature at a much younger age and step up and be the man of the house and live the way he lived and look after my sisters [Marisa and Tara] and my mom," he said. "I think he did a good job of showing me what it means to be a man. Being put in that position at 15 ended up being really good for me."
Richard Justice has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2011. Read his columns and follow him on Twitter at @RichardJustice