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updated: 7/2/2011 9:11 PM

Only one word for Byrd: Courage

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  • Cubs center fielder Marlon Byrd in the dugout during game with the White Sox at Wrigley Field on Saturday.

    Cubs center fielder Marlon Byrd in the dugout during game with the White Sox at Wrigley Field on Saturday.
    George LeClaire | Staff Photographer


Courage is a relative word, so we should be careful how we refer to what Cubs center fielder Marlon Byrd did Saturday in Wrigley Field.

Byrd played a baseball game. He didn't endure the constant punishment of football or hockey. He certainly didn't engage in combat in Afghanistan or Iraq.

But what Byrd did shouldn't pass without being recognized.

Byrd got back into a major-league batter's box six weeks after a pitch crashed into his face and caused multiple fractures.

That requires some measure of courage, doesn't it?

"Normal, normal," Byrd said of how his return felt. "You can't go out there with any fear. Not in this game."

You can't? How can't you when your left eye still is bloodshot from what Byrd called "just trauma"? How can't you when you're wearing a face flap at bat instead of a customary earflap?

Baseball fans take for granted that hitters do this all the time on all levels of the game. They stand 60 feet, 6 inches away from grown men throwing baseballs in their direction.

That ball is hard, by the way, which is why the game is referred to as hardball.

Last season a pitch bloodied Sox first baseman Paul Konerko's face and he didn't even leave the game. The club included the incident in its marketing campaign.

Anyway, back to Byrd. He didn't just get back on after falling off a horse. He more like got back up after falling off the side of the Earth.

Seriously, what Byrd did comes closer to courage than anything else in baseball, closer than a second baseman daring a runner to hit him on a double-play pivot, closer than a catcher taking a hit from a runner on a play at the plate.

Byrd walked on 4 pitches in his first at-bat back with the Cubs, then went 0-for-3 in the 1-0 loss to the White Sox.

Juan Pierre -- or is he Babe Pierre now? -- drove in the Sox' winning run. Starting pitcher Philip Humber threw 7 shutout innings.

For me, though, Marlon Byrd was the player of the game just for showing up in the big leagues for the first time since being hit May 21.

When anybody does that under the circumstances Byrd did, yes, it took some measure of courage.

There was a time in baseball when the first pitch welcoming a batter back would have buzzed him up and inside.

Humber threw Byrd 4 straight balls, all low and away. The Sox pitched him on the outer part of the plate all day, either because that's what the scouting report advised or because Ozzie Guillen was paying respects.

"If baseball has one Marlon Byrd on every team, it'll be all right," the Sox manager said. "Baseball needs players like him."

The Cubs' record was 20-24 when Byrd went on the disabled list. They proceeded to go 14-25 without him.

We're talking about a bad team with Byrd but a worse team without him.

"It's not just what he does on the field but what he does for the rest of the guys," Guillen said. "I have so much respect for that guy."

Then Guillen paid Byrd the ultimate compliment for any athlete in any sport.

"If I pay money to watch baseball," he said, "he's one of the players I'd pay to see play."

Marlon Byrd's display of courage Saturday, baseball-wise anyway, reinforced what the sport's community already thought of him.