11/21 Giving thanks

A little background: The family of a young Atlanta man, Brett D., wrote to the Cubs in hopes of reaching out to Marlon Byrd. Brett was suffering from compartment syndrome, which is something Marlon also had to deal with in college. Compartment syndrome is a serious condition that involves increased pressure in a muscle compartment. It can lead to muscle and nerve damage and problems with blood flow. Brett had undergone three surgeries, and was having a difficult time. Marlon wrote a letter to Brett, and then met him in Atlanta last August during the Cubs’ series. The two talked about their experiences and compared scars. Brett’s family was moved by Marlon’s generosity.

Here, Marlon talks about his experience with compartment syndrome. At Thanksgiving, it’s the perfect time of year to give thanks — to family, to doctors, and to pro ballplayers who take time to inspire fans.

I started having pain in my leg in November 1996. It was my sophomore year at Georgia Tech. After three days of pain, I couldn’t take it anymore. I finally went to see a specialist at St. Joe’s. I went in, and the same day, they had emergency surgery and they cut open my leg and found out I had an infection called compartment syndrome. What happens is, it’s an infection and your muscle starts to swell and it cuts off the circulation to the nerves that run underneath. Your muscle stops getting the blood flow. If you don’t catch it or release it to let the muscles breathe, it dies. I got very lucky. I had Dr. George Cierny. His specialty is everything, and you usually don’t see that with surgeons. He’s an amazing, brilliant man. He went in, removed the muscle, put beads in my leg to kill the infection.

He didn’t say, “You’re done, we need to go ahead and cut the leg off, we can’t do anything with it.” He put the beads in to kill the infection, and said, “Let’s wait a day or two and let me think it through.” After thinking it through, he said, “We’re going to wait, clean this up, make sure the infection goes away, close it back up. We’ll have you rehab all the adjacent muscles and see if we can get you to walk again.”

I had the first surgery, and the whole thing was, OK, first we’re going to get rid of the infection. The second surgery was, Let’s clean it up, close it up, and get him on his way and see if we can strengthen all the adjacent muscles around and go from there. It went from November ’96 when they cleaned it all up, and in January ’97, I had my final surgery when they reconnected all the tendons to adjacent muscles. I had to rehab my leg, and make it strong again — strong enough so by the time I came back from having the cast and having it held in one position for so long, it wasn’t so weak. That was Jan. 31, ’97. From all of that — having the surgery, having to learn to stand up, being able to balance, learn to walk again, underwater treadmill, pick it up — gosh, from that point, my last surgery, I tried playing in June or July of ’98, and couldn’t do it, couldn’t move. It was terrible.

At the same time, I was overweight. I went to the doctor, and said, “I don’t know if I can play.” He said, “Marlon, this is a career-ending injury. Second, we did this for you to walk. Third, if you ever want to be anything athletically on the field, you have to drop weight.” I went on a diet, dropped 90 pounds in five months. I think that’s how I got my work ethic coming back from this. I played one year of junior college ball after not playing for two years, and ended up being drafted in the 10th round by the Phillies. I hit like .460 and 16 home runs and had a great season. I think it’s because I enjoyed baseball, there was no pressure. I wasn’t trying for anything else. It was play baseball, finish your college career and then move on. I got lucky and got drafted.

I came close to having my leg amputated. I don’t know if this would’ve happened, but I believe if I went to a doctor who didn’t think outside of the box like Dr. Cierny did, I would’ve been dead, and they would’ve amputated.

I meet people when I hear stories and talk to them and just try to be there, that positive influence. The kid I met, Brett, was like, “Man, I wake up with pain every day,” and I said, “So do I.” Everything he said, I’d say, “So do I.” I pulled up my pants leg and he saw my leg. All of a sudden it hit him. He said, “You have the same scar as me.” It was the same injury. How many professional players do you see lose a muscle in their lower body and continue to play sports? It’s supposed to be career-ending.

Dealing with the injury made me realize that I could do anything I put my mind to. First off, they said, “You’re done playing,” and I didn’t believe that. Second, they said, “Drop the weight and I believe you can play.” I believed that and did it. Then I got a phone call from this scout and he said, “The Phillies are thinking of drafting you.” I realized I could play professional baseball. That’s pretty cool. That wasn’t my thought process — my thought process was play baseball, have fun and whatever happens, happens. I thought I’d be done after college.

I believed in me. I was never, “Why did this happen to me?” That never happened. It was one of those things — wow, this happened, now I have to deal with it, so what do I do?

— Marlon


  1. Mr. B

    No wonder Marlon plays so hard during the games. Last season he stuck out like a sore thumb compared to other Cubs, like a certain pitcher and third baseman. Congratulations, Marlon, and I sure hope the Cubs keep you. They need your spirit and tough play.

    Mr. B

  2. Matt Hunt

    I hope Marlon Byrd ends up in Ron Santo’s chair next to Pat Hughes some day. I love his effort on the field, and still feel he is a better person for who he is off the field. Great story.

  3. Sam Stecher

    So inspiring, love the way you play the game Marlon. The world needs more people who think and push like you. Like Matt Hunt said I hope someday you end up in Ron Santo’s chair because I feel like you would be wonderful in the booth after your playing days are over.

  4. Fred Dreger

    Marlon, I love watching you play baseball. You always give 100% and it shows everyday on the field. I hope Theo & Co. recognize these qualities and realize you are the epitome of the new “culture” the Cubs are going to attempt to create in 2012. Looking forward to watching you patrol center field next spring!

  5. Larry Svendsen

    The Cubs have many holes to fill, but Marlon Byrd’s place in the outfield mix isn’t one of them. He’s a player’s player not to mention a keeper. Expect to see many changes in 2012, but MB stays right where he is.

  6. Pingback: The Gravity of the Cubs’ Farm System Woes and Other Bullets | Bleacher Nation | Chicago Cubs News, Rumors, and Commentary
  7. ChiroDoc

    Marlon you are an inspiration to all of us. God Bless you. You are the best all-around Cub that we’ve had in a while, and hopefully you end your career here.

  8. John

    Hi Marlon … I’ve never heard of this syndrome and never dreamed it could be so life (not to mention career) threatening. Your good fortune to find a highly competent physician and your hard work … just amazing.
    Your willingness to meet with and share your experiences with the young man in ATL … not a surprise, given what we Cub fans have come to see in your play.
    Very best wishes for a blessed and Happy Thanksgiving!!

  9. shaunashlock

    I whole heartedly agree that Marlon Byrd is one of the hardest working Cubs that we have seen in a while. It seems like when players come to the Cubs they feel like they can take the year off because there are low expectations. Hopefully the expectations are higher in 2012! Thanks Marlon, you are much appreciated.

  10. Keithman

    Hi Marlon!

    I like to think of dreams as burritos of the mind. Sleep is the tortilla, everything is wrapped in it, like an enigma…or a blanket. Now the dream itself has all sorts of elements…beans, cheese, rice, meat (unless you’re my sister-in-law Tara), sour cream, hopefully some guacamole. But the thing is that all of these distinctly different components of the dream burrito end up mashed together in a gooey sauce that is so touching yet so hard to disassemble. That’s why when you wake up from an emotional dream you can’t remember all the details…and there is a smear of refried bean mash on your chin.

    Marlon, I didn’t know you were missing a muscle. We’re alike in that regard because I am missing a couple of teeth. You see, I was born with a rare condition called “not as many baby teeth as permanent teeth”. This led to an awkward time in Jr. High School when an adult tooth started descending with nowhere to go. I had a fang for a year! Everybody called me “nerd” and “dork” and while that had nothing to do with the tooth it still hurt. In order to make room for that tooth they had to extract a tooth on each side. They never put them back, Marlon. They never put them back.

    I think I told you my brother-in-law Andy got me onto his UTrip team. It turns out it’s not spelled that way. It’s spelled USSSA. The “trip” is for the three S’s. There are some mashers in that league. You’re not going to believe this, but I went 5 for 5 off one of the Cubs AAA starting pitchers! My brother-in-law Andy hit a home run off him. It was like a burrito come true!

    Last night my brother-in-law Andy couldn’t come to the 4 make up games we played…not make up like a lady paints her face, but make up like a rescheduled game. We usually play on Fridays but this week we played Monday. It rained HARD the entire night. Don’t worry though, Marlon. I went 14 for 18 on the night and one of my outs was a halo rule out. We can’t hit the ball back past the pitcher on the fly, Marlon. It’s so nobody gets their face broken. I’m sure you can appreciate that!

    Well Marlon, my blog has been going now for a couple of months. Google is paying me $124 this month for the ads I’ve been running on them. You should check it out because it’s information that you just can’t get anywhere else.

    I’m so exctied about Theo and Jed…what is this, the Beverly Hillbillies? But I realy am. No idea what to think of Sveum yet, but for now I’m a full fledged Theocrat. Are you mad that The Riot won a World Series? I’m not. I think he deserved it.

    keenkeith . blogspot . com

  11. Bleedblue

    This is the type of player that every team needs. He is a team player and not just showing up for the paycheck. I love the spirit that you bring to the cubs. You always seem to bring 110% to every game. I am from St. Louis but my heart is and always will be a cubs fan and i hope you return for many years to come.

  12. Brett Douglas

    This is Brett, I thank God for everything that Marlon Byrd did for me this past year. I have very bad nerve pain everyday but the day I was able to hang with Marlon on the field I only felt happy. that day i walked better then ever and i was the most happy i have been since I almost died. He and his wife are amazing people. And everyone in baseball needs to watch tape of a fly out Marlon hit to right field…he put his head down and ran as fast as he could and was at 2nd base when the right fielder caught that. Thank God for baseball players that want to help. Thank god for good people that don’t just care about themself. Thank god for people like Marlon Byrd

  13. Brett Douglas

    PS Lets all get together as a world this winter and help people. I love you all and God bless you all. If there is anything I can do to help anyone anywhere my email address is brettdogs@yahoo.com
    I am very close to starting my Doller for the homeless event in Atlanta
    please let me know if you would like to help-404-889-0679
    I am working with people that make all types of music to make a positive that we will sell to help make a very special xmas at the shelter.

  14. Benn Hamm

    Hey Marlon,
    What can I say, you are the hardest working Cub I have see in a long time. This story only reinforces what you show about yourself on the filed everyday you play. Keep up the good work and certainly best wishes to you in the future. You and your family deserve it!
    Benn Hamm

  15. keith

    i just started coaching pony league in the western burbs of chicago this summer. we cannot use you as an example of how to play the game enough when we see lack of hustle, please keep up your great work,happy turkey day and see you on opening day once again….and again….

  16. Jim

    Marlon is a man who may not have a lot of the God given talent some players have but what he does have that no other player can match is a big heart and non stop hustle. He is a role model and an inspiration and all class. The Cubs would be crazy not to have Marlon on this team. No one plays center like he does at Wrigley. Happy Thanksgiving Marlon and from a Cub fan of 50 + years…thank you for showing what a true professional is.

  17. Larry Golin

    I agree wholeheartedly with all that is said. I was in Wrigley Field when the goat came into the park and was thrown out. That was 1945. That was 57 years ago. The players then gave everything they had for peanuts. I think of Phil Cavarretta and how he played so well. Marlon Byrd is that kind of guy and I hope it will be contagious enough to get all the Cubs players giving as they gave. I hope that Marlon stays well enough to play until he is 40 and for the Cubs.

  18. The Sign Guy

    God Bless You Byrdman…Thanks for always being there. Your my Cub Hero. I’am going to make a sign for YOU for next season. We’ll pray that your leg, your career, your effort, your dream, and your uniform stays exactly …what it is. Thanks for being there for Brett. I’am hoping YOU might take Campani under your wing Byrdman. Help him fly my friend. I hope his spot in the dugout is siting right next to YOU. He’ll never forget. Thats what lifes about.

  19. R.

    Mr. B: “like a certain pitcher and third baseman” ? Why bring Ramirez into this? Aramis has been Mr. Cub for the past 8 1/2 years of his MLB career (during which he hit for average and production (239 HR) and played a solid 3rd) and I’ve never heard a negative word about the way he handles himself on or off the field. At this point in his career, he wants to play for a contender, and the Cubs are in rebuilding mode, so his decision to part ways is in the best interests of both parties. As for Z, well, yeah, he’s had his share of meltdowns and we can only hope he gets it worked out – certainly some of it recently results from playing on a team going backwards; hopefully, the Cubs commitment to rebuilding top-down this off-season turns that trend around pronto. At any rate, this is Marlon’s blog giving thanks, so why bother dissing his (former) teammates?

  20. Matt Powell

    WOW! Great story.. and a great man. I’ve been a Cubs fans for 20+ years.. and love hearing storying of people with such great character! You’re a true moticational, inspiration being.. Cubs are lucky to have you ..stay positive and stay true to who you are. I hope to meet you 1 day just to say thank you! Thank you for being who you are.. I hope you stay with the Cubs just 2 years longer or long enough and get to enjoy their first World Series Win in 115 years!!

  21. ed storm

    Marlon ,is a real good person and thats a fact, but lets not confuse our respect for him as a person, with the way he’s played the last two years. Marlon Bird, has never hit in the clutch since he’s been here, and that is simply the way it is. Theo ,if he’s worth his salt won’t keep any player because the fans think he should. Lets start judging our players on what they produce on the field, for a change.

    • Jim

      Yes you’re right that there were times he didn’t hit in the clutch and I can think of some other players who didn’t hit in the clutch too. I tho tend to look at his overall performance not just one area. His defensive play in center and his leadership have been stellar. There have been times too where he’s started a rally which led to runs. I don’t recall any one player who hit in the clutch on a consistent basis. Would you keep Pena because he hit 26 homers and had 80 runs batted in even tho he struck out more than just about anyone or hit a blistering .229. I wouldn’t. Leadership on and off the field is important. Marlon Byrd has shown these qualities and to get rid of a guy based on one area of his game to me is wrong. Marlon too is aware of his shortcomings and I read where if it’s time to move on he will. Baseball needs class people like Marlon….the Cubs need him too.

  22. ralph carter

    I got involed with baseball in 1948, now those players played for the love of the game because minor league did not pay much. today it seems all they care about is money. to see a man lije mr.b you appreciate them. stan musial, now there was a man, aball player, just a alaround good guy. Mr b glad you are that kind of A PERSON. keep up the good work

  23. Charlie Patterson

    Marlon Byrd is the best player on the whole Cubs team. I’ve been watching the Cubs for 45 years and have never seen another player with the same enthusiasm as Marlon has for the game. He’s the Cubs Pete Rose. One hundred percent effort one hundred per cent of the time. Some of his team mates could use him for an example. Reed Johnson will be a close second to Marlon.

  24. bill

    My son was injured playing baseball last summer. A similar injury to the one you had. Although my sons did require surgery to his left eye. I am looking for help in getting a helmet similar to the one you had made and wore. My son Will, plays on a colt baseball team so the finances are limited. I can send you a picture of his injury if you would like. But I am asking is there any way we can get help in obtaining a similar helmet to the one you wore? He is a huge Cub fan, so we are really hoping the Cubs will help us out. This would make it easier for him to get back on the field. The injury ended his season.Please pass this on the correct person.
    Thank you,
    Bill Sujak

  25. ty

    Happy New Year Marlon! 2012 will be better all the way around. I am at my winter home in Mesa and the guys have the fields looking great at Fitch. before the holidays I would see a lot of guys working out every morning–so come on down. the new hitting facility will get a lot of use.

    • bill

      I was hoping someone could help with a helmit solution similar to the one Marlon wore after his injury. My son wants to play ball again but is a little nervous getting back into the batters box. Any suggestions are welcome, I am told Marlon took care of his helmit on his own, not through the cubs.

  26. Jeu de mahjong guerre

    Whats up are using WordPress for your blog platform?
    I’m nnew to the log world but I’m trying to get started and create my own. Do you need any html coding knowledge to make your own blog?

    Any help would be greatly appreciated!

  27. Forbes

    Excellent webste yoou have here but I was wondering if you knew of any
    user discussion forums that cover the same topics discussed in this article?
    I’d really love to be a ppart of group where I can get suggestions from other knowledgeable peoplke that share the sme
    interest. If you hace any recommendations, please let me know.
    Many thanks!

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