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03-03-2009, 11:14 PM
Graves’ journey continues
Reliever hopes Astros will be last stop of his career

KISSIMMEE, Fla. — Danny Graves was too young to remember any of the events surrounding his evacuation of war-torn Vietnam with his parents near the end of 1974, about six months before the fall of Saigon.

Graves, who was born on a military base in Saigon to an American serviceman and Vietnamese mother who worked at the U.S. Embassy, was 14 months old at the time and years away from understanding the horrors of war.

The family settled in Florida in pursuit of the American dream, which often has baseball woven as part of its fabric. Things were no different in the Graves household, where Danny developed a love for the game.

Making his pitch
More than 20 years later, Graves made history by becoming the first Vietnamese-born player to appear in the major leagues. And thanks to a plea to owner Drayton McLane, Graves is in camp with the Astros trying to squeeze another year out of his career.

“I do believe I’ll be the only Vietnamese player to play in the majors,” Graves said. “Baseball is not very big over there. It’s definitely something special, and until the day I die I’ll be able to say I was the first Vietnamese player in the major leagues.”

Graves, 35, recently moved to San Antonio and cold-called McLane during the offseason, convincing the owner to give him a shot. A former All-Star closer with the Cincinnati Reds, Graves has a 43-44 record and 275 saves in 1,216 career appearances.

“The last couple of years I have been struggling, trying to get to the big leagues and I really don’t want to go that route again if it means being away from home too much,” Graves said. “I told them I have a desire to play for Houston, and if there’s not a spot for me in camp I’ll retire.”

Graves spent the 2008 season pitching in the minors in the Minnesota Twins organization but hasn’t appeared in a major league game since 2006. It was January of that year that Graves returned to Vietnam for the first time as part of a special delegation in conjunction with the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund.

The goal was to introduce baseball and promote healing and understanding between the United States and Vietnam, but for Graves it meant much more. He was accompanied by his mother Thao, who hadn’t seen her family in Vietnam in more than 30 years.

“It was pretty special, pretty emotional,” he said. “When we left, it was right before the fall of Saigon when things were really crazy and she said she would never go back, but I talked her into going with me. It was pretty emotional for her. Now she says, ‘I’m an American; I’m not doing that again.’ ”

Graves is thankful his father, who died in 1999, opted not to leave the family behind.

At peace with himself
Graves’ personal journey while in the majors is just as intriguing.

Known for his countless tattoos and lavish ways (he once owned a Rolls-Royce), Graves admits his life was going in the wrong direction. He wouldn’t elaborate but says he turned to religion and found peace.

Graves is facing long odds to make the club. The Astros’ bullpen is pretty much set, and Graves is more than five years removed from his glory days with the Reds, which included a 41-save season in 2004.

“I told Drayton, if God wants me to be here, he’ll put me here,” he said. “If it came down to it and they said they’d like to keep me and go to the minor leagues for a little bit I would do that.

“I really don’t have a desire to play anywhere else. I always liked going to Houston and had success going to Houston and this is a very Christian-based team, which is what I’m looking for.”