CARTHAGE, Texas — As Tim Harkrider extends his right hand, the ring commemorating a minor league baseball team's championship sparkles in the sunshine.
He wears the ring proudly, despite its Angel logo.
"I don't hate them," he said.
He is, however, suing them.
In a lawsuit filed in his home state of Texas, Harkrider, 28, charges the Angels with inferior medical care that prevented him from recovering from an ankle injury, regaining his status as a top prospect and, ultimately, playing in the major leagues. The Angels deny the charges.
Harkrider, an infielder, never advanced past double A, two levels below the major leagues, but in his suit he makes the unprecedented claim that he would have played in the majors for 10 years and should be compensated accordingly.
The cost: As much as $17 million.
"There will never be any justice as far as me fulfilling my dream of playing in the major leagues," Harkrider said. "The only justice I'll have is me knowing personally that I was good enough to be there."
Tim and Carie Harkrider were high school sweethearts with champagne wishes and caviar dreams.
"Even when he was in high school, he wanted to be in the big leagues," Carie said. "I dreamed it with him."
The glamour and affluence of the majors beckoned a world apart from the couple's home in Carthage, a town of 6,700 tucked into the woods of eastern Texas, 20 miles from the Louisiana border. After starring in college at Texas, Harkrider signed with the Angels for a $40,000 bonus in 1993.
Most players need a year in rookie ball and one or two more at the Class-A level before they either move up or wash out, but Harkrider breezed into double A in 1994, after only three games of rookie ball and two months at Class A.
In December 1994, as Tim and Carie celebrated their wedding, life could hardly have been better.
Except, that is, for Tim's pesky ankle injury. Five months earlier, Harkrider had raced backward from shortstop to catch a pop fly. The center fielder, charging in, gave way a moment too late.
"My center fielder slid under me. I stepped on his chest," Harkrider said. "I thought, initially, it was a sprained ankle."
So did Donald Floyd, the physician hired by the Angels for their double-A affiliate in Midland, Texas. Floyd ordered an X-ray in July and another in August, diagnosing a sprained right ankle each time, Harkrider said.
Harkrider said the doctor told him the injury would heal with time and he could play when he could tolerate the pain. Floyd did not return calls seeking comment.
The Angels activated Harkrider from the disabled list 20 days after his injury, with Midland playing in Shreveport, La., the Texas League stop closest to Carthage. The timing was no coincidence.
Sore ankle and all, the hometown hero did not want to disappoint his fans.
"The only reason I came back that quick was because we were coming to play in Shreveport," said Harkrider, who estimated he was only 70% ready to play. "I could hardly run. I basically made them take me off the DL so I could play here."
Thomas A. Connop, an attorney representing the Angels, did not return three calls seeking comment. In court papers, the Angels claim Harkrider's suit lacks merit in part because of his "own contributory negligence."
And how much responsibility does Harkrider believe he shares for coming back so soon that he might have aggravated his injury?
"I don't feel any at all," he said. "[The Angels] are the ones that were responsible for my care. Their doctors told me I was fine."
In 1995, former Boston Red Sox infielder Marty Barrett won $1.7 million in damages from Arthur Pappas, the team physician Barrett alleged negligently treated his knee injury. Although Harkrider blames Floyd for improperly diagnosing and treating his ankle injury, he is not suing the doctor.
Instead, Harkrider charges the Angels with breach of contract, claiming the team failed to provide the quality medical care stipulated in the standard contract signed by every minor league player.
The legal hurdle is a formidable one. Even if Harkrider could prove Floyd guilty of malpractice, that would be considered legally insufficient to his case against the Angels.
"You would have to show some reason why the team could be considered at fault for sending him to this person," said Roger Abrams, labor and sports law expert at Northeastern University and author of "Legal Bases: Baseball and the Law."
"One misdiagnosis is not evidence of fault."
Floyd has more than one critic. Pitcher Matt Beaumont, a Midland teammate of Harkrider, said his knee injury was diagnosed by Floyd as a relatively harmless stretched ligament. The weakened ligament later ruptured, Beaumont said, requiring surgery and a year of rehabilitation.