As Mike Scioscia struggles through the early part of what could be his final season as the Dodgers' catcher, the image appears unchanged.
He's quiet, expressionless, until he has to block a runner. It is in those infamous collisions that he seems most immovable--and alone.
But during his fight to remain on a team and in a town he has loved for 12 seasons, Scioscia has found help.
Helen Van Beek, a middle-aged teacher, is on his side. She would block home plate for him, if she could.
When she sees Scioscia, she thinks of her son, Jason, a 6-foot-6 boy with blond hair and blue eyes. Jason is attending the University of Texas Arlington on a basketball scholarship, and is a nationally ranked tennis player.
He is also paralyzed from the waist down.
"Thanks to people like Mike Scioscia, things are happening that I never dreamed possible," she said. "I never pictured my boy snow skiing. I never pictured him water-skiing. You should see him play tennis!
"Mike Scioscia leave Los Angeles? Gosh, no! I hope not."
Jim Miller, an Olympic basketball player and coach, is also on Scioscia's side. He would catch Tom Candiotti's knuckleball for Scioscia, if he could.
As director of the junior wheelchair sports program at Casa Colina Hospital for Rehabilitative Medicine in Pomona, Miller has seen Scioscia's many contributions become real-life success stories.
"Every two or three years, when Mike's contract is up, we start thinking about it," Miller said. "I don't know what we would do without him. To see kids grow up and become confident in their abilities, it is a tremendous thing. Mike is a tremendous person."
Finally, Nikki Gramatikos is also on Scioscia's side. As a media consultant at Casa Colina, she has seen the hard figures on what Scioscia has contributed since he began their relationship in 1984.
Nearly $1 million in revenue, money that has reached nearly 1,000 disabled people, supplying them with the sports equipment and facilities to help them continue and better their lives.
"We would miss Mike incredibly," Gramatikos said. "By now, it's like he has become a part of this hospital."
His impact on the hospital has been as heavy as his impact on the Dodgers, for whom he has caught 1,350 games, more than anybody.
He has sponsored a fund-raising golf tournament for seven years. He collects donations from his teammates whenever he blocks the plate. And he has made countless visits to the hospital and satellite summer camps.
'I don't know if \o7 proud \f7 is the right word, because I really haven't done anything, but I do have a great sense of fulfillment there," Scioscia said. "Second to my marriage and my family, it is the most fulfilling thing I do."
That is one of the reasons Scioscia is working so hard to return to the Dodgers after his contract ends this fall.
"It's no secret, I want to stay here," he said. "I really feel a part of things here."
Even with top prospect Mike Piazza just one level away, it seems probable that Scioscia will receive at least one more contract here.
Scioscia has not heard anything about a new contract, though, and won't.
Even though Fred Claire, Dodger vice president, broke his policy by giving Scioscia a new deal before the end of the 1989 season, Claire has since toughened his stance of not holding contract discussions until the end of the season.
Claire is outspoken in his praise of Piazza and Dodger backup Carlos Hernandez, but there is a sense that he understands Scioscia's value in a different light.
"Right now I would give Mike good marks as always," he said. "He does a lot of things that people who don't follow our games closely wouldn't know."
Scioscia was enjoying playing golf 11 years ago when Mickey Hatcher asked him to play in a new tournament for this unusual hospital.
It turned out to be the start of a relationship that peaked last year when he learned that Jason Van Beek had become one of the first athletes in the country to receive a wheelchair basketball scholarship.
And to think that when Van Beek, at 9, first visited Casa Colina, he was suffering from Guillian Barre Syndrome and was paralyzed from the neck down.
"To see people like that, that makes it all worth it," Scioscia said. "I mean, one of the first scholarships in the whole country. Now \o7 that's \f7 an achievement."