Rangers draftee focused on recovery

ATLANTA -- Johnathan Taylor won't let himself think for a minute that he can't get completely healthy, rise out of his wheelchair and eventually play baseball again.

His mother won't let him.

Tandra Taylor knows all about difficult accidents. A few years ago, she fell asleep at the wheel and slammed into a tree, totaling her car, breaking her right femur and damaging her knee in the process.

"They told me I couldn't walk, but I knew what I could do," said Tandra, who has a titanium rod in that leg and is walking just fine after hard work in rehab. "Johnathan has that same attitude. He can't say the word 'can't.' His attitude is great."

Taylor was at her son's side the minute she got word that a collision in the outfield with University of Georgia teammate Zach Cone on March 6 had broken Taylor's neck, sending him to the emergency room and leaving him partially paralyzed.

Cone wasn't seriously hurt, but was clearly shaken by the incident. He had run into his best friend trying to make a play in the outfield and watched as they took him away on a stretcher. Can you imagine?

"It was really hard," Cone said.

Cone's numbers tailed off shortly after that and he struggled to focus.

"But the more I got around Johnathan, the better I felt," Cone said.

The teammates were together again Saturday at Turner Field as the Rangers introduced three draftees from Georgia. That included the club's top two picks, left-handed pitcher Kevin Matthews (33rd overall) from Richmond Hill High School and Cone (No. 37).

What was clear is that Johnathan Taylor refuses to keep anything but an optimistic attitude. It's that kind of spirit that the Rangers wanted in their organization. So they drafted him in the 33rd round despite not knowing whether he'll get back on a baseball field.

"He was a guy that barring injury we felt would be a drafted player," said A.J. Preller, the Rangers' senior director of player personnel. "We talked to a lot of people who have been around him and they talk about what a special person he is. His goal every day is to get better and that's a goal we talk to our players about, too -- every single day go out there and try to make yourself better."

The club contributed to a foundation set up to help him with Taylor's medical expenses. He was tendered a contract but didn't sign to keep his amateur status. His goal is to get well enough to rejoin his teammates in the dugout at Georgia next season.

"Even if he can just be there and travel with us, we want him in that dugout," Georgia coach David Perno said. "You want him around your guys and your team because he's got so much to offer. He's a phenomenal young man and we want to make sure we keep him around the game."

Tandra Taylor got emotional when asked what it meant for the Rangers to draft her son.

"It's awesome, it really is," she said, wiping away a few tears. "This is a kid who's always worked hard from beginning to end, and he hasn't stopped. This is just another obstacle in his life. He will overcome that. He's always been a very good kid. He loves baseball. He has a dedication and a passion. He plays with a passion for the game."

Johnathan said he's already made improvement, enough so that several doctors have admitted surprise at how quickly he's regaining some strength.

"I was stiff as a board and could barely move my arms," Taylor said. "Now I have extension, working on balance and getting more movement. There are some other things, but I'll keep that on the low key right now. I want to move them on more consistent basis. I have to stay strong in the mind."

Taylor said he was a Rangers fan even before they drafted him. He would pick the Rangers when playing video games, and one of his favorite players in the majors is Josh Hamilton. Taylor got to spend some time chatting with Hamilton in the visiting clubhouse Saturday and watched the team take batting practice. Then he'll head back to Shepherd Spinal Center for rehab work Monday through Friday. He's working with therapists to strengthen as many muscles as he can.

"I want to push the wheelchair by myself and work on transfers," Taylor said. "I'm getting stronger."

His mother sees it, too.

"He's coming back," Tandra said. "He's not one to lay down and give up."

And Johnathan knows she'll be there to cheer him on.

"She's been by my side ever since the accident and keeping me pumped up with a positive attitude and believing in me," Johnathan said.

Richard Durrett covers the Rangers for ESPNDallas.com.