LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Blessed with a strong arm and fueled by a burning competitive desire, J.R. Graham has been a standout dating back to the days when he was playing baseball with his suburban Oakland, Calif., childhood friends.
But the fact that Graham truly stands out whenever he takes the field -- with his pant legs resting at his knees, occasionally atop traditional stirrups -- is a product of his desire to allow his mother to better identify him on the field.
Julie Graham has had a lifelong battle with Best disease, which has steadily impacted her ability to see details and perceive colors. Though legally blind, she has continued to savor those opportunities to sit in the front row of baseball stadiums and use binoculars to watch her son pitch.
While playing baseball at the youth levels, Graham often wore white cleats to simply give his mother a chance to pick him out among the other players, who primarily wore dark-colored cleats.
"I've grown up knowing she is legally blind and that she has trouble seeing," the highly regarded Braves pitching prospect said. "But you would never know it if you met her. It's just something she has dealt with her whole life."
Graham's mother will travel to Florida next week and stick around for the early portion of the Grapefruit League schedule. This should give her a few opportunities to be in the stands to pick out her son, who is steadily gaining confidence that he no longer has to worry about the right shoulder discomfort that sidelined him most of last season.
Graham's lingering apprehension affects him when he begins to warm up in the outfield grass. But he said by the time he gets on the mound, he no longer worries about his shoulder.
"I think at some point it's just going to click," Graham said. "I know I don't have pain. I've thrown without pain this whole camp and this whole offseason. I think at some point my brain is going to have to take over and just let loose."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less