“I had a hard time,” Span said. “My natural ability wasn’t doing what it needed to be doing, because I’m thinking too much. I’m thinking about everything that I’ve never thought about.”
He leaned, as he always did, on family. “I’m definitely a mama’s boy,” Span said. At his first professional games in the Gulf Coast League, Wilson and Allen, his uncle, would sometimes be the only two people in the stands, Wilson’s voice echoing through the empty ballpark.
“She knows what I need to hear mentally,” Span said. “If I’m going through a struggle or whatever, she knows when to console me. And then she knows when to say something to get me ticked off or fired up, to push me. She knows best.”
He reached the majors in 2008, almost six years after the Twins drafted him, and quickly established himself as their center fielder with a .387 on-base percentage. Given the chance, he entrenched himself in the community. He assisted at the local RBI Program, MLB’s initiative to promote baseball in the inner city.
Span devoted time and donations to the Jeremiah Program, a charity designed to support single mothers. He held a bowling event to raise money. On multiple occasions he visited the local chapter, where he would spend an hour or two playing with the kids.
“He understood the challenges single moms have, and he took it very personally,” said Angela Woodhouse, the director of major events at Jeremiah Program. “It was just him and the kids. Moms were taking pictures. It wasn’t an opportunity to get attention for himself. He was doing it for the kids.”
‘I want to be an all-star’
Span’s career changed on June 5, 2011, at Kaufmann Stadium in Kansas City. He ripped a line drive down the left field line, and as the ball rattled around the corner, he began thinking inside-the-park home run. After Span sped around the bases, he collided with Brayan Pena, a catcher built like a bull. Span’s head smacked Pena’s shoulder. His neck snapped back violently.
“I wasn’t unconscious,” Span said. “I remember getting up and feeling winded. I thought it was normal.”
Span finished the game, but the haze hadn’t lifted. He sat two days and went 0 for 4 in his return. The room moved as he sat still. A fog filled his mind. He was scared.
Tests revealed Span had a concussion. It was hard for him to explain symptoms to trainers and teammates. After a month, Span still could not play. The Twins started losing more, and he began seeing his name surface in trade rumors. He had never been a public trade target, and the stress from the rumors compounded the stress from trying to return from his concussion.