Nick Bierbrodt couldn't have been more excited when spring training started in February.
Tampa Bay Manager Hal McRae had him penciled as the Devil Rays' No. 3 starter after he was impressive after a July trade that brought him from Arizona.
Instead, it has been a nightmarish year for the former Long Beach Millikan High star, who was a first-round draft pick by the Diamondbacks in 1997.
Bierbrodt, 24, had severe control problems in the spring that cost him his spot on the opening day roster. But the left-hander appeared to have solved his troubles during extended spring training and had an encouraging five-inning start in June for the team's Class-A affiliate in Charleston, S.C.
Bierbrodt then suffered a setback that put his career and his life in jeopardy. A few hours after a June 6 game against Greensboro, Bierbrodt, RiverDog teammate Nick Vigue and Vigue's girlfriend Melissa Sigmon, were sitting in a taxi in the drive-through lane of a fast-food restaurant. A man riding a bicycle was playing a radio and pulled up beside the taxi. Bierbrodt said something about the loud rap music and an argument ensued.
After a few moments, the man allegedly pulled out a gun and shot into the back of the taxi. Bierbrodt was hit twice, one of the bullets going through his right arm, through his diaphragm and into his liver, where it remains. Doctors at the Medical University of South Carolina opted not to remove the bullet, believing surgery was a greater risk than leaving it there.
Bierbrodt was in intensive care for four days and released from the hospital June 15. He spent the next three weeks at his mother's house in Long Beach before returning to Tampa last Sunday night.
In his first public comments since the shooting, Bierbrodt said he feared for his life. No arrest has been made.
"I remember the instant the verbal altercation started and I remember him pulling out a gun and not having a chance to say anything or wasn't able to defend myself," he told Tampa-area reporters. "He just pulled it out and shot me.
"I told the driver I needed to go to the hospital. I told the people I was with that if I didn't make it, to tell my family and friends that I loved them."
Tampa Bay General Manager Chuck LaMar was shocked when he heard about the shooting.
"I know that it happens in society but it really doesn't sink in until it's one of your own," LaMar said in a telephone interview. "He was really, really fortunate."
LaMar said he is confident Bierbrodt will be with the Devil Rays next spring. Bierbrodt said he hopes to begin a light rehabilitation program in six to eight weeks. The shooting, though, has left an impression that will last far longer than his wounds.
"You learn to appreciate everything and live life to the fullest," Bierbrodt said.
Joel Hanrahan figured to be in the Dodgers' plans when the team took him in the second round of the 2000 first-year draft. But if nothing else happens in his pro career, the 20-year-old right-hander will have his name etched in Vero Beach lore.
Hanrahan got credit for his second no-hitter this season July 4 in a 5-1 victory over Brevard County in the Class-A Florida State League. It wasn't the normal, nine-inning variety, though. He gave up a run in the first inning and the game was called in the middle of the sixth because of rain. Since the game, having gone five full innings, was official, Hanrahan became the first Dodger to throw two no-hitters in a season since Sid Fernandez for Vero Beach in 1982.
"I guess I'd put an asterisk next to it," Hanrahan said. "If it was seven innings or eight innings, I'd feel it was more of a game."
Brevard County's Brandon Watson scored the run when he led off the game with a walk, stole second and later scored on a sacrifice fly by Rich Lane.
Hanrahan went all nine innings in no-hitting Jupiter on April 21. For the season, the Norwalk, Iowa, native is 6-3 with a 3.21 earned-run average and has limited opposing hitters to a .214 average.
* Jacksonville's Ricardo Rodriguez started the season rehabbing an injured right shoulder, but the organization's minor league pitcher of the year last season at Vero Beach has picked up where he left off. Rodriguez, 24, is 5-2 with a 1.83 ERA for the Suns and got the victory in the MLB Futures Game last Sunday in Milwaukee.
Salt Lake reliever Francisco Rodriguez was the Angels' representative in the Futures Game and he struck out Corey Hart of Class-A High Desert to close a 5-1 victory for the World team over the U.S. at Miller Park. In 57 2/3 innings in 33 games for triple-A Salt Lake and double-A Arkansas, the 21-year-old right-hander has a 1.56 ERA and 11 saves with 85 strikeouts and only 18 walks.
* Casey Kotchman, the team's No. 1 draft pick last season, is having a solid first full season. The son of Angel rookie league Manager Tom Kotchman is hitting .292 with four home runs and 42 runs batted for Class-A Cedar Rapids.