ANAHEIM -- Chris Bootcheck was in Salt Lake City, Utah, last August, pitching for the Angels' Triple-A affiliate in the Pacific Coast League, when he got a phone call from home in Indiana. The news was stunning. Dan Bootcheck, Chris' father, was about to be hospitalized for emergency heart surgery.
"My mom and dad called and said he needed open-heart surgery immediately," Bootcheck, a valued member of the Angels bullpen now, recalled. "He had seven major blockages in four or five arteries, and it needed to be taken care of the next day. "There was no warning, no preparation. I went to our manager in Salt Lake, Brian Harper, and he asked me what I wanted to do. So I went and called my dad, and he said, `You're not going to get here in time to see me before the surgery anyway, so just stay there.' He said, `You're a phone call away. We'll keep you posted.'" Two days later, Bootcheck was summoned by the Angels to join them in New York -- and face none other than Randy Johnson at Yankee Stadium. An angular 6-foot-5 right-hander, Bootcheck out-pitched the Big Unit and should have earned the win, but a lead got away after he departed. Sent back to Salt Lake after the game, Chris got the organization's approval to stop over in Chicago on his way to Utah. Then came a surprise visit to the family home in Michigan City, Ind., where the Bootchecks have run "The Sand Trap" sports bar for years. "He was sitting in a recliner, a beard on his face -- I'd never seen that before -- when I walked in," Bootcheck said. "The look on his face was ... important to me. He had no idea. It was good to see him." Dan Bootcheck has recovered and is doing well enough to have come to see Chris when the Angels visited Chicago and Detroit. His son is fulfilling his own dream of pitching in the Major Leagues.
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.