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Pete Redfern Making Progress as He Struggles to Overcome Paralysis

May 18, 1986|JEFF HASEN | United Press International

The sight of his young son tossing a baseball brought a prideful twinkle to Pete Redfern's eyes. Were it not for the paralysis caused by a diving accident, Redfern would have showed 5-year-old Chad some of the stuff that had brought him to the major leagues.

"I get choked up sometimes when I watch him play baseball," the elder Redfern said recently, watching from a wheelchair as Chad threw in the backyard. "His coach came over the other day and said that Chad hustles more than any other kid on his team. That really made me feel good."

Redfern had reason. Chad, his blond hair and ear-to-ear smile making him a candidate for a television commercial, seemed to be a happy chip off the old block.

The Redfern family was not always as happy. Tragedy found the Redferns in October, 1983, when the former Minnesota Twins right-hander dived into shallow water off the Southern California coast and broke his neck.

"I don't have anything to be discouraged about," Redfern, 31, said following a rehabilitation session in his Sylmar house. "I almost died three times so there's no reason to be discouraged. I'm as happy as heck to be here. I thank God every day for letting me live and letting me be here."

Redfern was in Newport Beach that late autumn day, a day, coincidentally, when he was to receive his release from the Los Angeles Dodgers.

"We had gone sailing and we had been having fun," Redfern said, remembering the good time he was having with friends. "We were going to go to a concert that night so everyone was pretty much taking it easy. We had gone sailing and all I had done was take some stuff off the boat and taken it onto the shore, walked up the steps and went onto the wall.

"The seawall was only about 3 1/2 feet high. I was an experienced diver. I stepped up on the seawall. The water looked to be about 5 feet deep, maybe 4 feet deep. All I attempted to do was a racing dive. As I got right up above on the water, I looked. As I had pushed out from the wall and gotten out farther, the water had gotten shallower instead of deeper. I tried to buckle up and put my knees down to try and stop myself. I guess when I hit the water, the impact caused me to go forward, hit my head and I broke my neck."

Redfern remembers how he came out of the water alive.

"Scott (Swett) saved my life," he said of the friend he had made long before he had gained a scholarship to USC and become the Twins' No. 1 draft choice. "I was face down in the water for a good 1 1/2, 2 minutes and I was just about ready to let it all out and give up. Scott said something told him to go over and turn me over. He saved my life. Otherwise I would've drowned because I was ready to stop trying to hold my breath."

Redfern ended up in a hospital, waiting for stabilization that would allow surgeons to operate.

"The only thing I could do was wiggle the thumb on my left hand," he said, recalling the first days following surgery. "Through therapy at Northridge Hospital (Medical Center) every day--9 in the morning until 3--you work with your hands, stretch your body, trying to strengthen the muscles and try to get the most out of them. I was lucky my spinal cord was pinched, not severed. It takes a long time to get your muscles strong.

"I can move everything now. I can walk in parallel bars, do all my eating, drinking, propel myself in my wheelchair. I can do about as much as possibly can be expected at this point in time. Right now in therapy, we're concentrating on walking more than anything else. Our goals are to be able to walk around the house in a walker. That is a goal that my doctors and therapists don't think it is out of the question. They think it's getting close."

The Major League Players' Association and others in baseball have played a large part in Redfern's recovery.

"I can't say enough about them," he said. "They've paid every bill that they've had to pay--disability, my nursing. I go down to the Dodger clubhouse and they're all real good to me. (Manager) Tom Lasorda is always joking with me. It's real nice to know that there are so many good people out there. It really, really helps."

At the front of the nice-people line is Redfern's wife, Tina.

"She's the greatest person in the world," Redfern said. "There's nobody better. It takes a lot of perseverance. She's running a business right now (a hamburger-hot dog restaurant recently opened near the house), she has a son. She takes care of everything. She's had problems--her mom has had surgery. She's the backbone of the entire family. She's a strong woman and I'm just glad to have her."

Redfern, who had a 42-48 major-league record, said wise investments have allowed the family to remain comfortable financially. He'll begin to receive his pension from the Players Association when he turns 45.

"The better I get, the less things I'll need from them," he said. "They've just done so much. I'd like to do something for them in return."

One might understand if Redfern showed some bitterness toward the fates. He does not.

"Ever since Day One when it (the accident) happened, I told my wife and nurses that God had a reason for this to happen. I just think that maybe the reason He did it is because I have such a positive attitude about it, maybe others will have a positive attitude.

"People realize life goes on, even after a traumatic injury and to live every day and enjoy yourself. You have to know your limitations. I get full enjoyment out of life even though I'm in a wheelchair."

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