Whenever Brian Esposito is feeling down about a batting slump or a bad day behind the plate, the Augusta GreenJackets catcher glances up at the bill of his cap for some inspiration and perspective.
Under there, written in black ink, are four letters and four numbers. It's a reminder of how lucky he is to play baseball for a living. It's a reminder of how lucky he is to be alive.
That was the badge number worn by Michael Cammarata who, at 22, was the youngest New York City firefighter to die in the World Trade Center on Sept. 11.
Esposito and Cammarata grew up in the same neighborhood in the borough of Staten Island, a 20-minute ferry ride from Ground Zero.
They were teammates, along with Atlanta Braves pitcher Jason Marquis, on the local team that made it all the way to the Little League World Series in 1991.
Now, the loss of his childhood friend has changed Esposito's outlook and approach to his baseball career.
"Just the reality that you may not be here tomorrow, and what can you do today is how I look at things now," Esposito said. "I live my life day-by-day, and play baseball day-by-day instead of worrying what's down the road for me or worrying about moving up. I'm trying to just have fun every day because you never know if it's going to be your last day."
After batting just .190 in 90 games with the Jackets last season, Esposito reported to spring training in February and soon learned he would be returning to low-A Augusta for a second season.
That wasn't the best of news for the former University of Connecticut star, but he took it in stride.
The 22-year-old Esposito started strong this spring, batting .318 in his first six games. But he struggled after his playing time was cut slightly with the arrival of Edgar Martinez from extended spring training.
His average dipped to .178 before getting on track with a 4-for-5 night against Lexington on April 27. Through Friday, Esposito was batting .242 with one home run and four RBI.
"I can only control the things I can control," said Esposito, a fifth-round draft pick by the Red Sox in 2000. "They felt I needed to come back here and get better, and that's all I can do. I worked hard in the off-season to get bigger and stronger, and I'm just going out there every day trying to get better and help the team win some games."
HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Heightened security and stricter visa regulations this spring in the wake of Sept. 11, revealed that more than 100 Latin American players in the majors and the minors are older than their teams thought.
Eight Red Sox farmhands - including Jackets outfielder Daniel Figueroa and several former Augusta players - are amongthose who aged.
Figueroa, whose listed age is 20 in the Red Sox media guide, is actually 23. Rene Miniel, who emerged as a prospect after an outstanding second half with the Jackets last year, is actually 23 rather than 21. Pitcher Franklin Francisco aged one year to 22. And another former Jacket, pitcher Anastacio Martinez, is 23 rather than 21.
In the past, a Latin American player could falsify his ages to make him younger and, in turn, more desirable to major league clubs.
SALLY SHORTS: While Asheville Tourists outfielder Jason Frome was in the midst of a minor-league best 21-game hitting streak through Thursday, teammate Bryan Peck was making an impact of a completely different variety.
In an April 26 game at Greensboro, the 24-year-old Peck crashed through the right field wall at Memorial Stadium while trying to catch a fly ball by the Bats' Omir Santos.
The 24-year-old ended up tumbling down an embankment, barely missing telephone poles and the remains of a cinder-block wall, before landing on the banks of a creek behind the stadium. Peck, who was eighth in the South Atlantic League in batting at .333 at the time, sustained only minor injuries and was back in the lineup six days later.
"It's definitely an experience I'll never forget," said Peck, the Rockies' 22nd-round pick in 2000, to the Greensboro News-Record.