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BILL SHAIKIN / ON BASEBALL

Baseball is the ultimate support group

Dodgers scout John Green helped the baseball fraternity rally to support minor league advisor P.J. Carey and his wife, who were diagnosed with cancer last year. On Friday, the Dodgers and Diamondbacks played a charity game to raise funds for Tucson shooting victims, one of whom was Green's daughter Christina.

March 26, 2011|BILL SHAIKIN

TUCSON — The season is long, and the road is lonely. The fraternity of baseball lifers bonds in creaky old ballparks and chain restaurants, scouts and coaches leaning on one another when the comforts of home are far away.

P.J. Carey gave his adult life to baseball, more than three decades of working with young players from Casper, Wyo., to Spartanburg, S.C. Carey was working in the Dodgers' front office last year, as an advisor in the minor league department, when he and his wife each were diagnosed with cancer.

The baseball fraternity rallied behind Carey, led by a Dodgers scout and longtime friend. The scout collected autographed jerseys, bats and baseballs from his contacts across the major leagues, for an auction last fall that would help the Careys cover medical expenses.

This is how baseball lifers treat one another, and not for a spotlight that seldom shines on them anyway. Little did the scout know that the baseball world, and a larger world, would rally behind him just two months later.

The scout's name is John Green. His 9-year-old daughter, Christina, was among six people killed in a shooting rampage in Tucson on Jan. 8.

The Dodgers and Arizona Diamondbacks played a charity game before a sellout crowd here Friday, generating $100,000 to benefit the families of those affected by the tragedy. It was a blessed reminder of how baseball can be a force for good.

"It is pretty amazing what this game does in bringing people together for causes that are much bigger than the game," said Trey Hillman, the Dodgers' bench coach.

Hillman walked through the Dodgers clubhouse a couple weeks ago, soliciting volunteers for this game. No one relished a two-hour bus trip two days before the team breaks camp, but no one told Hillman no.

The Dodgers split their team between two games Friday, so all the veterans could not come. Andre Ethier came here, and so did James Loney and Tony Gwynn Jr. and Jay Gibbons and Jamey Carroll.

"It's the least we can do," Carroll said.

Justin Sellers, the Dodgers' third baseman for the game, rushed over to a man handing out the memorial wristbands, white ones for all the victims and purple ones just for Christina. Sellers took one of each.

"They'll be on me in the game, I promise," he said.

John Green, a onetime pitcher in the New York Yankees' minor league system, embraced Dodgers Manager Don Mattingly and introduced his 12-year-old son, Dallas.

His wife, Roxanna, pulled out a baseball and a Sharpie for her son.

"Ask him to sign it for you," she said.

There was a moment of silence to honor the six people killed, each of whom had a banner with his or her name draped on the outfield wall. There was a fly-by, not by a military plane but by the helicopter that shuttled victims from the shooting site to the hospital.

Dallas Green threw out the ceremonial first pitch, with Mattingly catching. The real pitches soon followed, and with them a three-hour semblance of normalcy.

John Green has gone back to work, back on the road scouting for the Dodgers. If he would like some time off, or if he would like his wife and son to join him on the road, all he has to do is ask.

"It's on us," General Manager Ned Colletti said. "They can do whatever they need to do."

Said Dodgers owner Frank McCourt: "The way they have conducted themselves -- the grace, the dignity, the composure, the strength -- has given those of us around them strength."

The baseball family helped the Greens, just as the Greens had encouraged the baseball family to help the Careys.

"They had cancer, and our community came together to help them," John Green said. "As we needed our help, people stepped up right away.

"That really provides a level of comfort when things happen to you that are that tragic. Initially, you don't know how you are going to handle it."

P.J. Carey and his wife, Katherine, don't get around easily these days. But the Careys showed up at the ballpark to support the Greens.

"They extended themselves to us, and now they have extended themselves to the rest of the country," P.J. Carey said. "I couldn't be prouder of them."

On Nov. 11, the Greens tossed all that autographed memorabilia -- from Matt Kemp and Fernando Valenzuela, from Derek Jeter and Roy Halladay and many more -- into their car. They drove two hours, to the Arizona Fall League game where the memorabilia was displayed for auction.

Christina Green came along too. She sat behind the display table, munching on cookies and smiling as she told a volunteer how special it was to skip school for a day.

That was a lovely Friday, and so was this one.

bill.shaikin@latimes.com

twitter.com/BillShaikin

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