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Remembering the ultimate sacrifice in Cashman Field history

Updated August 31, 2018 - 9:32 am

You won’t find it in a box score, but it was the greatest sacrifice in the history of Cashman Field, which this weekend hosts its final homestand.

It wasn’t a successful squeeze bunt, or a fly ball with a man on third base that clinched a Pacific Coast League playoff berth. It was bigger than that. The 51s will be moving into a new ballpark in Summerlin next spring (weather and subcontractors permitting), but any retrospective about their old one would not be complete without a mention of it.

On April 3, 2003, a Cashman Field record crowd of 15,025 jammed into the quaint ballyard on Las Vegas Boulevard North to watch the Cubs play the White Sox on Big League Weekend. A former Las Vegas physician named Julian Lopez was an invited guest of Eddie Einhorn, minority owner and vice chairman of the White Sox.

They had met in the emergency room at Valley Hospital Medical Center, where Lopez, who was interning, had treated Einhorn for acute pancreatitis.

Within the year, Einhorn’s health worsened. He was diagnosed with kidney disease; he would require a kidney transplant. Or as Gary Cooper as Lou Gehrig said in the movies, it would be three strikes.

The baseball executive’s wife and children were tested as potential donors. They weren’t a match. Same for Einhorn’s brother, who had high blood pressure.

It was Dr. J. — Dr. Julian Lopez — who would prove to be the perfect match.

Giving thanks

A few months after the organ transplant, I received a phone call from Eddie Einhorn. He was in town; he wanted to tell the story about the greatest sacrifice in Cashman Field history.

“The whole thing, just the timing and everything, was a miracle,” he said over breakfast at the Luxor. “It’s very unusual to have a nonrelated live donor.

“This man saved my life. I mean, what can you do, how do you say thank you for something like that?”

You invite him to spring training in Arizona. You have his son, Alaric, be the White Sox batboy.

You take him to the All-Star Game and to the Super Bowl.

You bestow him with the inaugural Roland Hemond Award for humanitarianism.

And when the White Sox clinch the World Series against the Houston Astros, you invite him into the winner’s clubhouse.

Better than all of that, you become his friend. His friend for life.

Extra innings

Eddie Einhorn, whose fledgling TV network aired the college basketball “Game of the Century” between Lew Alcindor-led UCLA and Elvin Hayes’ Houston team in 1968, was 67 when he received a kidney and extra innings from Dr. Julian Lopez.

Einhorn would live to be 80 before dying Feb. 24, 2016, of complications following a stroke.

Through Einhorn, Lopez also became friends with White Sox and Bulls majority owner Jerry Reinsdorf. He has since moved to Florida, where he is practicing gastroenterology in the Jacksonville area.

“We were very good friends, that’s why I did it,” Lopez, 65, said this week. “Eddie would call me, because he started having problems with his kidneys.

“My life is dedicated to helping people with lives less fortunate be better. For me, for it to have any meaning, I have to give something of myself to each patient. I don’t want anything in return. I just want the satisfaction of … doing everything I can to help them.”

But donating a kidney seems way above and beyond the basic tenets of the Hippocratic Oath, and sliding one in for an office visit without an appointment.

“That was the ultimate expression of my commitment to patient care and to making life better for others,” Lopez said upon being pressed. “That’s really what it meant to me.

“Eddie went on to live a good 14 years without dialysis. When you have end stage kidney disease, your life is going to be shortened. And how do you want to spend that life? On dialysis? I said, ‘I’m not going to let you do that.’ ”

Lose a kidney, gain a friend for life. Go to spring training and watch your son shag Paul Konerko’s bat.

In baseball, there’s an expression that a bunt or a blooper that falls in will look like a line drive in the next day’s box score.

There isn’t a catchy saying for a successful sacrifice, no matter how great it might seem.

More 51s: Follow all of our Las Vegas 51s coverage online at reviewjournal.com/51s and @RJ_Sports on Twitter.

Contact Ron Kantowski at rkantowski@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0352. Follow @ronkantowski on Twitter.

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