When Luke Lang was diagnosed with lymphoblastic leukemia in 2013, the doctors explained to his parents the probabilities of survival for a young child battling such a disease.
His father, Richard Lang, wouldn’t hear it.
“The first words out of my mouth were ‘Don’t give me percentages, it’s 100 percent. There are no percentages,'” Richard Lang said. “I just said ‘losing is not an option. It’s not an option.’ [The phrase] just started, and Luke is the true meaning of it.”
It’s that mantra that caught Dodgers’ third baseman Justin Turner’s attention several years ago, when Luke Lang entered his life.
The Langs, from Long Island, N.Y., had field passes to a game at Citi Field in 2013. Luke, who had just finished a round of chemotherapy, was handing out his bracelets with “Love for Luke, Losing is Not An Option” and gave one to Turner, who was then in his final season with the Mets.
“I thought it was amazing,” Turner said Monday morning at Sherwood Country Club, where he hosted the Justin Turner Foundation’s second annual golf classic. “Their energy, their outlook, their passion for life, their positivity, [it] just kind of hooked me in.”
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Turner immediately fetched a bat to sign for Luke, and the friendship blossomed from there. Luke threw out of the first pitch at Dodger Stadium on Turner’s Bobblehead Night in 2015, and Turner makes a point of seeing him each time he’s in New York, even surprising Luke at one of his Little League games last summer.
“I say it with all my heart and soul that Justin and Luke are friends,” Richard Lang said. “It’s not Luke and Justin Turner, No. 10 for the Los Angeles Dodgers, it’s Luke and Justin. And it’s such an amazing friendship, and I wish people could see through my eyes what I see because how Justin is with my son, it gives me goosebumps. It’s an amazing relationship.”
Today, Luke, now 9, is in good health. He took his last chemotherapy pill on Sept. 20, and his latest monthly blood work came back “fantastic,” his father said.
“We hold our breath every time he goes, but he’s a fighter,” Richard Lang said.
Turner’s community engagement has since expanded to include his annual golf fundraiser, which drew a number of Turner’s Dodgers teammates, including Adrian Gonzalez, Yasiel Puig, Scott Van Slyke, Joc Pederson jersey and Scott Kazmir.
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Luke teed off the ceremonial first drive, and following the tournament, the participants attended a dinner, where the Lang family was presented the first Justin Turner Foundation Perseverance Award.
“He fits us to a T,” said Roberts. “I see him at the top of the lineup. Throughout his career he’s found the ability to get on base. [Followed by] Corey, J.T. [Justin Turner], Gonzo [in the batting order], and we’ll figure out the rest — it makes sense. He gives us quality versus right- and left-[handed pitching]. He adds to the continuity of the lineup, and if there’s a right-handed killer [opposing starter] and it might not make that much sense, Logan will be on board.”
Roberts said the long Spring Training caused by the World Baseball Classic will provide sufficient at-bats for “an intense competition” in the outfield. Ideally, he said, the play of a leaner Yasiel Puig and Pederson deserves everyday status. But he also said Andrew Toles will get a long look, and he hasn’t ruled out Andre Ethier (fractured leg), Trayce Thompson (fractured vertebrae), Scott Van Slyke (wrist surgery) or Kiké Hernandez returning to form.
“I think Toles, the way he played in September, is deserving of more opportunities, and we’ll see how [Ethier] bounces back and get him opportunities as well,” he said. “If Yasiel is getting 600 at-bats, it means he’s playing well and then the Dodgers are in a pretty good place. I want to get Joc more opportunities against left-handed pitching. With Yasiel in the lineup more, it’s better for the Dodgers, and the same can be said for Joc.”
Thompson said he hopes to be in spring games by March 1. Roberts said Ethier’s leg is completely healed and won’t prevent him from playing defense, as it did when he returned in September.
“From what I understand, ‘Dre is 100 percent to go and there won’t be any treatment,” Roberts said. “We know Andre’s pedigree. It’s not like he has to prove anything.”
Roberts said that even though Julio Urias is “one of the five best starters in the organization,” the 20-year-old’s innings will still be limited. One option is for Urias to open the season at extended spring training; another is for him to skip multiple starts during the year.