Graham's high stirrups help legally blind mom spot him

Graham's high stirrups help legally blind mom spot him

MINNEAPOLIS -- As the Twins were being introduced on the foul line before Monday's home opener against the Royals, it was easy to spot reliever J.R. Graham with his stirrups pulled up high.

But it wasn't just because of the way Graham likes to wear his socks, as he does it to help his mother, Julie, identify him on the field. She's legally blind, diagnosed with a rare retina disorder called Best Disease, so it's something Graham has been doing since his days playing Little League.

"It started out with white cleats because other kids wore black cleats, but the stirrups didn't start until I was about 12 or 13, and ever since, it just kind of stuck," Graham said. "It's to stand out, and there's a reason for it."

It was a special day for Graham, a Rule 5 Draft pick from the Braves who is ranked by MLB.com as the Twins' No. 17 prospect, as he had his parents, Brian and Julie, in the stands for the home opener. They also made the trip from Northern California to Detroit for Opening Day last week.

"It was just everything I worked for growing up and the realization of the dream coming true," Graham said. "To have my family there was pretty special because they sacrificed a lot for me. So to have them there was a very special moment."

Graham entered the home opener with the bases loaded in the eighth inning and promptly hit Royals right fielder Alex Rios with a first-pitch fastball on the hand. Graham said it was an accident and he didn't mean to hit Rios, who suffered a broken left hand and is out indefinitely.

"I'm not trying to hit anyone with the bases loaded," Graham said. "So, it's just baseball. The ball slipped and it got him. I could tell he was upset, but I wasn't going to say anything. I just wanted another ball and was more mad at myself than anything."

Twins manager Paul Molitor also defended Graham, saying the 25-year-old was just amped up to make his Target Field debut and didn't purposely hit Rios.

"I felt bad for Rios," Molitor said. "It's not a situation where we were even thinking about doing something like that. It was just a young kid trying to do too much. But you hate to see someone get hurt."

Rhett Bollinger is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Bollinger Beat, and follow him on Twitter @RhettBollinger. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.