TRENTON, N.J. -- In 2009, the Yankees and all of their Minor League affiliates began the HOPE Week initiative to recognize and honor outstanding individuals and organizations who have positively impacted their cities and surrounding communities. The Trenton Thunder continued that effort on Wednesday night by paying tribute to Eric
TRENTON, N.J. -- In 2009, the Yankees and all of their Minor League affiliates began the HOPE Week initiative to recognize and honor outstanding individuals and organizations who have positively impacted their cities and surrounding communities. The Trenton Thunder continued that effort on Wednesday night by paying tribute to Eric LeGrand.
Just four days after his annual "A Walk to Believe" fundraiser generated more than $125,000 for the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation, LeGrand addressed the team and coaching staff prior to Trenton's game against the Hartford Yard Goats at Arm & Hammer Park.
"For one, it is an amazing story, and it is very inspirational here," said Thunder manager Bobby Mitchell of LeGrand, a former Rutgers University defensive tackle who was left paralyzed after a violent collision in the closing moments of a matchup with the Army Black Knights in October 2010. "We are honored to have him here and talk to the team. He is obviously an amazing person."
Mitchell added: "There couldn't be a better person to come in and speak to a team. If you don't get inspired by that, you are crazy. When they told me he was coming, it was exciting for me to see him, and hear what he had to say."
HOPE Week stands for "Helping Others Persevere & Excel," and nobody has embodied that mantra more than LeGrand.
Doctors determined that LeGrand had fractured his C3 and C4 cervical vertebrae and told him that he would never walk again. The 26-year-old New Jersey native has since regained movement in his arms and shoulders with sensations throughout his body and has worked to raise awareness and funds for those with similar conditions. By the end of '16, LeGrand's charity will have raised more than $750,000, with a goal of surpassing $1 million by the end of this year.
LeGrand was grateful that the Thunder organization had invited him to the ballpark and it allowed him to reminisce about his days at Colonia High School.
"I did play baseball," LeGrand said. "That is my biggest regret. I don't have regrets in life, really, but my biggest regret is not playing all four years in high school. I was a pitcher and center fielder, and I honestly thought that baseball was going to be my calling until I got offered as a freshman, for football, by Rutgers. Then I focused everything on football, but I miss the game to this day."
LeGrand delivered an inspirational message for the players to carry through their hopeful journey to the Major Leagues.
"Just be the best that you can be," LeGrand said to the team. "Be the best version of yourself each and every day and see how far you guys can go. You guys are having a great season, so keep it up and keep on grinding. I am a Yankees fan right here in New Jersey and I am rooting for you all to make it to the highest level that you guys want to go."
LeGrand added, "Don't focus on the things that you don't have, if there's something that you do want, work your butt off to get it. Don't ever let anybody tell you that you can't do something because they don't know the faith of a person and they don't know the hard work and the grind that somebody puts into their craft. When it comes to me, my goal is to walk again, and I truly believe that after everything that I have been through, that one day I will be able to walk again."
Matt Kardos is a contributor to MLB.com.