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When fate tests faith

By Daily Bruin Staff

May 16, 2001 9:00 p.m.

  NICOLE MILLER/Daily Bruin After a summer filled with
tragedy due to the loss of his friend Kelsey Osburn, senior
shortstop Josh Canales is playing the best ball of
his life.

By Adam Karon
Daily Bruin Staff

Fate brought Josh Canales and Kelsey Osburn together.

Last summer, Osburn was playing second base for the Newark
Raptors in the Northeast Collegiate Baseball League when a spot
opened up for shortstop. Canales, a senior on the UCLA baseball
team, jumped at the opportunity to play in New York. One of the
first teammates he met was Osburn, and the two young men hit it off

“Our attitudes were similar, our personalities were
similar,” Canales said. “When we played up the middle
we had an awesome chemistry and a lot of fun.”

Osburn, a sophomore at the University of Arizona, and Canales
got along so well that when Osburn’s parents came to visit
from Tucson, the group spent three straight days entertaining each

“We had some great times together,” Canales

Then, on July 11, fate intervened again. Canales was taking
batting practice, and Osburn was running the bases. The UCLA senior
smashed a ball foul down the third base line. The drive seemed no
different than the thousands of batting practice balls Canales hit
during his career.

But this swing forever changed his life.

The ball caught Osburn just above the ear on his right temple.
He was not wearing a helmet. The sound must have been sickening.
Osburn remained conscious, though clearly in pain. Three minutes
later he crumpled to the ground, slipping into a coma.

He never woke up.

Canales found himself sitting in a hospital waiting room, facing
Osburn’s parents who just one week before took him on a
family trip to the baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. The Osburn
family had left New York a day earlier but quickly returned when
news of their son’s accident reached Arizona.

  UCLA Sports Info Josh Canales “His
dad came up to me and gave me a big hug,” Canales said.
“It was very reassuring.”

The incident left Canales at a crossroads, both in life and on
the baseball field. The game he grew up playing lost much of its

“I didn’t know if I ever wanted to pick up a bat
again,” Canales said.

But the resilient shortstop felt he had to return, if not for
himself, then for Osburn. The first few days were painful.
Everything reminded Canales of his friend, and focusing on the game
was difficult.

“It was a defining moment in my life,” Canales said.
“If I wanted to continue to play baseball, I knew I needed to
get back out there and play right away. I didn’t want to take
time to try and hide or escape from what happened. It was hard, but
it was what Kelsey would have wanted.”

It would have been nearly impossible for Canales to return
without his family and his faith. His mom, Ritha, flew to New York
to be with him during the difficult weeks that followed. His dad
Isaac, a pastor at a Southern California church, offered spiritual

“He told me that he never experienced anything like
this,” Canales said. “He said I just had to hang with
it and keep my faith.”

Faith is what carries Canales through life on a daily basis.
While Osburn is always in his prayers, Canales knows he would be
lost without his belief system ““ something strengthened by
his family and the way the Osburns have treated him.

“The Osburns released Josh from any guilt and bitterness
by showing him a loving nature,” Isaac said.
“They’re really special people. They (practically)
adopted Josh as a son.”

Canales knows that without this support he would not have grown
into the man or ball player he is today.

He was named Player of the Week last week and is one of the
hottest hitters in the Bruins’ lineup right now. He is in the
middle of a 21-game hit streak and is batting .386 with 76 hits and
35 runs scored. In addition, he is second on the team with 11
stolen bases and has shown his selflessness by contributing eight
sacrifice bunts while participating in 27 double plays.

“He’s become a lot more patient this year,”
said UCLA’s leading batter Brian Baron. “If he gets a
single, it’s as good as a double because he’s such a
base-stealing threat.

What is most significant is the adjustment in Canales’
play over the last year, when he hit just .248. He works harder,
contributes more, and his approach to baseball has changed.

“I’ve never played this way before in my
life,” Canales said. “I feel like when Kelsey died, a
piece of his heart went into me. He was 5-feet-5 and had to fight
and scrap for everything he ever got. He had the heart of a

Canales speaks with pride when he talks about Osburn. He
describes a ball player who would have started this year for the
Wildcats as one of the shortest players in the nation. He brags
about Osburn’s tenacity and talent as if they were brothers.
And although they are not related, they will forever be

“He internalized and assimilated all the positive
qualities of Kelsey Osburn,” Isaac said. “He
hasn’t become Kelsey Osburn, but he took that love and that
friendship off the field and made it his own.”

Josh believes that everything happens for a reason. He carved
the initials “K.O.” into his glove so that Osburn gets
time on the field, even though he can no longer play. Canales does
not attempt to run away from his past. He faces it on a daily
basis, and uses the incident to find inner strength.

“This built character very quickly,” Canales said
about what he went through. “I went from an immature
individual to a very mature individual. I grew in my faith and
learned to put life in perspective.”

Before he passed away, Osburn was learning how to bunt for a
base hit. Canales was acting as his teacher. After the incident,
Osburn’s parents requested that Canales “lay one down
for Kelsey.”

If the spot on the Raptors had not opened up early in the
summer, the entire ordeal would have been


But then, Canales never would have met Osburn, never would have
taught him bunting techniques, never would have become close with
his family or developed an intense friendship. Fate brought them
together, and it also tore them apart.

Canales keeps a photograph of Osburn at his bedside, looking
into his friend’s eyes every night before bed and every
morning before he starts his day.

“Kelsey Osburn died doing something he loved,”
Canales said.

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