Free-agent signee Ian Des­mond bring­ing tal­ent, pas­sion and goodwill to Colorado.

New­est Rockie a big hit away from baseball too

The Denver Post - - SUNDAY - By Pa­trick Saun­ders Pa­trick Saun­ders: psaun­ders@den­ver­ or @psaun­der­sdp

Words, flow­ing like tes­ti­monies, are of­ten ut­tered in trib­ute to Ian Des­mond — the man, not just the baseball player.

Washington Na­tion­als su­per­star Bryce Harper once said of his for­mer team­mate: “I re­spect Desi more than any­one in baseball.”

Last sum­mer, Texas Rangers man­ager Jeff Banis­ter called Des­mond “a com­plete stud, and a true leader.”

Rangers bat­ting coach An­thony Iapoce de­scribed Des­mond as “the best pupil I have ever had.”

Last week, hours af­ter Des­mond of­fi­cially signed a five-year, $70 mil­lion con­tract with the Rock­ies as a free agent, gen­eral man­ager Jeff Bridich joined the cho­rus.

“Let me put it this way. Ian is a com­plete ballplayer, and if he’s not a five-tool player, he’s pretty darn close,” Bridich said. “To be able to top that off with the per­son he is, and the per­son he’s been in the club­house, it’s a huge, huge ad­di­tion for us. I’m thrilled to get him.”

Yet none of those glow­ing ac­co­lades say as much about Des­mond as the story about the tat­too he has branded on his left fore­arm.

Des­mond, it must first be un­der­stood, is a crea­ture of so­cial me­dia. He has gained le­gions of fans and made mul­ti­ple friends through Twit­ter. One man be­come a very spe­cial friend.

He is 23-year-old Ethan Brown of South Carolina. At age 16, Brown was di­ag­nosed with neu­rofi­bro­mato­sis (NF), a some­times crip­pling dis­or­der that makes its vic­tims highly sus­cep­ti­ble to tu­mors. In 2012, af­ter see­ing Brown’s prayer re­quest on the Chris­tian web­site Unashamed Ath­letes, Des­mond be­gan in­ter­act­ing with Brown via Twit­ter. The two then be­gan cor­re­spond­ing and talk­ing on the phone, be­com­ing close. In a 2014 story in The Washington Post, Brown called Des­mond “the big brother I never had.”

Then they be­came “blood broth­ers” by get­ting nearly iden­ti­cal tat­toos. The man who de­signed the tat­too was a long­time Na­tion­als fan named Al­lan Petersen, who grew up in Washington but now lives in Mas­sachusetts. Petersen was another per­son who be­came Des­mond’s pal via Twit­ter.

Petersen had won a baseball bat signed by Des­mond af­ter win­ning an on­line con­test for Quilts of Honor, a char­ity that sup­ports mil­i­tary veter­ans.

“If you can be­lieve it, Ian started fol­low­ing me on Twit­ter right af­ter that and we be­came friends,” Petersen said. “I guess you could say it’s a 21st-cen­tury friend­ship.”

Even­tu­ally, Petersen manned an on­line Indiegogo cam­paign to raise funds to com­bat neu­rofi­bro­mato­sis. In May 2014, the “End NF” cam­paign raised nearly $33,000.

“Then Ian asked me if I would de­sign a tat­too for him and Ethan Brown,” Petersen said. “I was thrilled to do it.”

It was at a Na­tion­als vs. Braves game in 2013 that Brown asked Des­mond about his tat­toos. Des­mond asked Brown if he had any, and Brown told him he did not. Ac­cord­ing to The Washington Post, Des­mond asked: “Would you get one if I got one?” So Brown did.

“The tat­too is very sym­bolic of both men,” Petersen said. “And it ties them to­gether through their fight against NF.”

Tak­ing Des­mond’s ideas, Petersen cre­ated a coat-of-arms de­sign. It fea­tures a blue-and­green shield con­sist­ing of four puz­zle pieces, the sym­bol for NF re­search. Deer antlers rep­re­sent Brown’s love of hunt­ing, while baseball bats sym­bol­ize Des­mond’s pas­sion. The motto of the tat­too reads: “End NF.”

“What I want to say about Ian, and what I would sum up as his core, is his au­then­tic­ity,” Petersen said. “What you see is what you get. He’s the same way with his team­mates in the club­house as he is with his re­la­tion­ships with peo­ple off the field.

“Ian won’t be a rah-rah guy in Colorado. He won’t be out there giv­ing out high-fives all over the place. But he will get to know peo­ple, he’ll pay at­ten­tion and he’ll treat you right.”

Great de­bate has raged among Rock­ies fans about the team giv­ing a five-year, $70 mil­lion con­tract to a 31-year-old for­mer short­stop turned out­fielder who is now ex­pected to turn him­self into a first base­man. Des­mond sim­ply sees it as a chal­lenge, and he vows to give his new team every ounce of will and en­ergy in his body.

Des­mond’s natural fa­ther died at age 46 when Des­mond was only 18 months old. His mother grew up in a fam­ily of eight and be­gan work­ing at an early age. Des­mond car­ries that fam­ily his­tory with him when­ever he goes to the ball­park.

“Play­ing baseball every day is a fight,” he said. “You wake up in the morn­ing some­times in the sea­son and you don’t feel good, but you suck it up and go out there be­cause that’s what you are paid to do.

“That’s the way I see it. I try to keep as much of a blue-col­lar at­ti­tude to­ward my job, this life, as I can. I love baseball, and it’s what I get to do for a liv­ing. I’m blessed.”

By all ac­counts, Des­mond’s team­mates are blessed too. This is what Harper told the MidAt­lantic Sports Net­work af­ter be­ing named Na­tional League MVP fol­low­ing the 2015 sea­son: “Ian is such a great team­mate. He’s such a great per­son on and off the field, has a great fam­ily, and I en­joy play­ing side by side with him every sin­gle night.

“At the end of the day, whether you’re 0for-4 or 4-for-4, you have to have the same men­tal­ity com­ing into that next day. And that’s what I tried to do the whole year this year. That’s what I wanted to do. I wanted to help my team win on a daily ba­sis and that’s all I wanted to do. I re­spect Desi more than any­body. This guy is some­body that I truly look up to as a per­son, and I can’t thank him enough for ev­ery­thing he did for me this year.”

Ian Des­mond brought his wife, Chelsey, and their sons to the news con­fer­ence at Coors Field an­nounc­ing his sign­ing with the Rock­ies last week. John Leyba, The Den­ver Post

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