Sam Donnellon | He's managed to clear lots of hurdles

BOSTON - The manager likes to say he is along for the ride. The truth is, the ride has been his personal uncanny metaphor. However this World Series ends, whether by the lopsided football scores of Game 1 or the tightly contested Game 2 of last night, the Colorado Rockies' stumble-and-restart season undeniably and inexplicably reflects the life of 50-year-old Clint Hurdle.

"This doesn't need to be a 'Dr. Phil' show," he said the other day when someone followed questions about his struggles as a young player with those about his special-needs daughter. Partly because what he has been through, largely because of his raw-nerve openness in discussing every pothole, breakdown, detour and deliverance of that life journey, he's wrong there, too.

20071026_dn_0jqg5p5q
Rockies manager Clint Hurdle says adversity has built character.

Dr. Phil? Interviews with Hurdle this postseason have felt more like a very special "Oprah."

"I'm not a psych major," he said when asked before yesterday's game whether his team was wide-eyed for Game 1, but again, the evidence proves otherwise. Hurdle's ease at the helm through his young team's frantic run to and through the postseason has facilitated its resilience. That resilience is being tested as the World Series moves to Denver, with Boston up two games to one after last night's 2-1 loss to the Red Sox.

In Hurdle's rearview mirror stand two failed marriages, a hard-living and underachieving playing career, a jagged journey through the minor leagues as a coach and manager and a string of potentially career-ending losing seasons before this year's incredible ride.

In front of him - besides that young team still threatening to implode before his eyes - is the special-needs daughter who fills his eyes with appreciative tears each time he speaks of her.

"Her purpose in life, and I think the purpose of many special-needs children in people's lives, can be a dynamic, that if you don't have one, you'll have no understanding," he said of 5-year-old Madison Hurdle, who has Prader-Willi syndrome, a genetic disorder that affects weight, behavior and learning ability. Prader-Willi affects one in 12,000 to 15,000 people, and the roughest years for people like Clint Hurdle and wife Karla are the early ones.

"It's a very special fraternity or sorority to enter into," Hurdle said. "You don't raise your hand and get to the front of this list. But once it happens, you're in. And I think most importantly, once you're in, it's like many things in life: You look for good, you're going to find good; you look for bad, you're going to find bad. There's a period where you need to get through the grieving, the challenges, that big picture of the unknown . . . "

Not a psych major? Hurdle could market these interviews into self-help and/or inspirational tapes. Want to know what it was like to be heralded as "This Year's Phenom" on the cover of Sports Illustrated in 1978 at age 20? Want to know what he learned from his unceasing attack on the Kansas City nightlife back in the '80s?

"I really believe we're prepared for the future through our past," he said. "Patience has become a very important tool for me. And it's not one that I easily learned."

Neither, he said, was "the importance of keeping humility in your back pocket." Even now, with a second healthy child, a boy, and a marriage that has lasted a decade, with an evangelist's trust in God, it is easy to see the teen who had the world on his lap when the Kansas City Royals made him their top pick in 1975.

By all accounts, including his own, Hurdle's career collapsed under the weight of expectations, and the infinite opportunities for fun those expectations financed. The 1980 World Series against the Phillies was the high point, Hurdle collecting five hits and reaching base seven times in the four games he played. An outfielder and corner infielder, he never again came anywhere close to the 137 games he played in that season and by 1988, plagued by a bad back, he was done.

"One of the best things I was ever told as a young player that I never understood until I was an older player is that there are two kinds of people that play this game," he has said. "Those who are humble . . . and those who are about to be.

"At the age of 18, I laughed, 'Yeah, that's cute.' Well, by the age of 38, I was wearing it."

The challenge now is to fit it around a team that has vacillated all season between dominance and self-destruction. Last night was better than the night before. The three games in Denver this weekend, though, will measure how much that past can improve.

"One of the most challenging moments for me came earlier in this year when one of our guys in Denver dropped the words 'crushing' and 'debilitating' upon me after a loss," he said. " 'Crushing' was when a doctor told me my little girl was born with a birth defect. Baseball is a game. Let's not take the end result and wear it like an anchor around our neck afterward. Man, let's just figure it out. See where we can get better and get ready to play the next one." *

Send e-mail to

donnels@phillynews.com.

For recent columns, go to

http://go.philly.com/donnellon.