Baseball was easy for Derrek Lee, despite injury setbacks.
But real life was hard, even harrowing. A broken wrist that heals is dealt with rationally -- it's part of the game. Yet when your child is diagnosed with a disease for which there's no cure at present, there are scarce guidelines about how to deal with the situation.
Lee cried during a press conference last September following the news that his 4-year-old daughter Jada had been diagnosed with Lebers Congential Amaurosis (LCA), a vision-impairing disease in one of her eyes. Now, there are no moist eyes, at least publicly, for the Cubs first baseman. Only a steely determination to beat the disease.
"Without question, I'm determined to do what I can, do my part, to find the treatment and cure for the 3,000 people afflicted with the disease," Lee said. "I feel it's part of my responsibility. I'll give it everything I have to knock this thing out."
"Everything" at the moment is backing the Project 3000 effort, an umbrella organization to direct fundraising efforts to battle LCA. Lee is working with researchers at the University of Iowa.
"We're setting up dinners, receptions, fund-raisers all over the country," Lee said. "We're working with optometrists all over the country, and working with Vision Service Providers, the largest health care company for eye care."
Progress is already being made.
"Medical technology from 10 years ago to now is like night and day," he said. "The things they can do are unbelievable. This disease alone, they're doing clinical trials this summer on treatments for genes for LCA. The importance is in getting the other 2,500 people (not tested already) for their genes tested. It's very important to get their genetic testing done.
"Researchers and doctors are very encouraged with the progress they made in the last couple of years and they feel there's (eventually) a treatment for LCA."
Lee is especially boosted by the support of two Cubs teammates. Catcher Michael Barrett and closer Ryan Dempster each have pledged $50,000 to Project 3000. In addition, Barrett will donate $10,000 for each home run -- he has slugged 16 each of the last three seasons -- and Dempster will give $1,000 for each save.
"I said, 'Wow, that's a lot of money, you sure you want to do that?'" Lee said when Barrett first contacted him. "He said, 'Yeah, I'm sure.' That's just the type of person he is. He'd give the shirt off his back and I'm proud he's one of my teammates."
Most of all, Lee wants to ensure Jada has as normal a life as possible with a vision impairment. So far, she has adjusted well emotionally.
"She does a good job describing her symptoms," he said. "For the most part, it's something she's had since birth. We really didn't know it. She's adapted well to it. She sees well out of one of her eyes -- basically 20-20. She never seems to get frustrated or down-spirited. She's always in a great mood and happy. There are symptoms. She wants to rub her eye sometimes. The doctors say it's a sensation they can't describe."
It was about a year ago that Lee broke his wrist in a first-base collision with the Dodgers' Rafael Furcal. The injury virtually wiped out his entire 2006 season. He proved he was recovered with a sizzling Spring Training and a hot start in April.
"I don't think I was 100 percent till probably January of this year," he said. "I started feeling good through the offseason. By January, it came to a point where it was kind of a non-issue. Last year it was never right. It takes longer than you think."
The fight against LCA and the effort to cure Jada Lee and thousands more will take much longer than that, but Lee is ready to grind it out over the long haul.
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.