"I mean," Coe continued, "I want to be sure it wouldn't hurt his feelings."
Cone had to suppress laughter. "Trust me, that won't be a problem," he said. "Go for it."
Coe got immediate approval when he raised the idea of drafting Taylor with his bosses, Texas owner Nolan Ryan and G.M. Jon Daniels. "This wasn't done out of pity," he says. "As a baseball player, he deserved to be drafted. We did it to help him, but I think the whole experience helped us more. The positivity of that kid is amazing."
Keeping the secret meant that for the rest of the day Cone couldn't respond to a backlog of Taylor's texts and messages. But finally it flashed on the crawl on Cone's computer: In the 33rd round of the 2011 draft, the Rangers selected Johnathan Taylor, junior outfielder, University of Georgia.
With that, Cone headed to Shepherd. Taylor's room was already filled with celebrating relatives and friends. Someone had found Rangers caps for Cone and Taylor, which they both propped on their heads. The circumstances were, of course, different from what they'd imagined. But the two friends were taken in the same draft by the same team.
A few nights later Janet Cone took Tandra Taylor out to dinner to celebrate. "We were laughing like schoolgirls, just enjoying the moment," says Janet. "Someone came over and said, 'You ladies sure are happy!' Tandra said, 'Yeah, our babies just got drafted, and they get to play baseball together again.'"
As it turned out the Rangers were coming through Atlanta a few days later for an interleague series against the Braves. The team's other first-round pick, Kevin Matthews, was a hard-throwing lefty from outside Savannah, and the Rangers got the three Georgia kids together at Turner Field. Matthews remembers meeting stars he'd seen on TV. But he also has vivid recollections of the way Cone and Taylor interacted. "It was me and these two great guys who were like brothers," he says.
Two days later Cone headed to Spokane for rookie ball. Taylor headed back to Shepherd. He never did sign with the Rangers. Though the selection was a gesture of compassion—"A class act by a class organization," says Perno—if Taylor had put his name on the document, it might have rankled the NCAA, compromised his amateur standing and jeopardized his status as a Georgia student.
It's right about now that we roll our eyes and declare the NCAA a heartless, inflexible bureaucracy. But know this: It's the generous NCAA insurance policy that is paying most of Taylor's medical bills. He also benefits from a separate policy provided by Georgia, as well as from fund-raising undertaken on his behalf. (The home page of the Georgia Baseball website contains a link to donate to the Johnathan Taylor Fund.)
By early 2012, Taylor was back on campus, taking classes toward his major in consumer economics and spending hours nearly every day in one therapy or another. A designated note taker follows him to classes. On an iPad, Taylor can access video of all lectures. He lives in an accessible dorm room on East Campus; his roommate is Ryan Payne, a grad assistant athletic trainer. While Taylor just passed a special driving test, for now a customized van shuttles him to classes and appointments.