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05/09/08 10:00 AM ET

Lo Duca driven to succeed by mom

Luci instilled a strong work ethic in Paul at a young age

WASHINGTON -- Ask Nationals catcher Paul Lo Duca who his hero is, and he will not give you the name of a baseball player or a sports star. He doesn't even hesitate with the answer when he calls his mother, Luci Lo Duca, his inspiration, and for good reason.

When his father, Paul Sr., was working two to three jobs to support a family of five back in the 1970s and '80s, it was Luci who took Paul Jr. to every sporting event he participated in.

"Every baseball game or every camp that I went to, my mother was there on the sidelines," Paul said. "She pushed me toward my career."

To show how serious Luci was in wanting Paul to be successful in baseball, she would set up a special kind of batting practice for him. In order for Paul to improve his hand-eye coordination, Luci used to pitch him white pinto beans and wouldn't allow him to use batting gloves during the sessions. She felt his hands would get stronger without the gloves.

"I would have a wood bat and no batting gloves to get my hands stronger -- little things like that," Paul said. "She knew the game. Very astute. She watched a lot of baseball games. She was the kind of lady that loved the 1-0 game and the strategy part of it, that National League type of game. She was a big baseball fan."

Born and raised in Brooklyn, N.Y., Luci grew up a Brooklyn Dodgers fan, and after they left town, she became a Mets fan.

Imagine her excitement when Paul was drafted by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 25th round of the 1993 First-Year Player Draft. Luci then became Paul's agent for a brief spell after the Draft.

"I got drafted late, so there wasn't much to negotiating," Paul said.

Unfortunately, after Paul started playing professional baseball, tragedy struck the Lo Duca household. Luci was diagnosed with ovarian cancer a year later.

At first, Luci didn't tell her youngest son about her illness because he was set to go to Australia to play winter ball. She wasn't going to allow her illness to stop Paul from succeeding on the diamond.

"She never told me because she probably knew there was an opportunity to play winter ball and I probably wouldn't have gone [had she told me]," Paul said. "She didn't tell me until I got back because she didn't want me to be distracted. That's the way she thought. She was always supportive and very protective of all three of her children."

Luci battled ovarian cancer like a warrior, but she eventually lost the fight in the fall of 1996, while Paul was playing in the Arizona Fall League. She only saw Paul play in Class A ball.

Since Luci's passing, Paul has donated money to the Ovarian Cancer Foundation in her honor and is always visiting terminally ill children.

"It puts everything in perspective," Paul said. "You see those kids and women battling diseases, it makes an 0-for-4 a lot better. It keeps me humble. I think about my mother every day. I put her initials on the field every day before I play. She is the reason why I'm here."

Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.