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Padres' Ready Handles Horror of Wife's Tragedy

September 30, 1988|BILL PLASCHKE | Times Staff Writer

SAN DIEGO — They were married that summer on the only day Randy Ready didn't have a baseball game. It was El Paso, 1982. Ready was a 22-year-old infielder with a passion, and his girl Dorene was someone who understood.

The church was tiny, the congregation numbered two: a buddy and his girlfriend. They doubled as the best man and maid of honor. They kissed the bride. They threw the rice.

And then they pulled up in Ready's beige 1968 Chevy Nova. Into the back climbed Randy and Dorene, and off they went into the West Texas night. If you are a minor league player with a game the next day, that is what is known as a honeymoon.

Their friends drove, Randy and Dorene swigged champagne. They told awful jokes and drank some more. Then somebody slipped a Frank Sinatra cassette into the tape deck and, all together, they sang.

"Sang all of his old songs," Ready recalled. "You know, like that one, 'Fairy tales can come true, it can happen to you.' "

It is 6 years later. Ready is sitting in the quiet of a major league clubhouse, and softly, just for a second, he is humming that song, "Young at Heart." Then he suddenly stops. Ready no longer wants to hear about fairy tales, occupied as he is with finishing a second consecutive season burdened by his reality. Baseball, you see, is no longer his work, but his escape. Baseball has become the easiest thing he does.

When he goes home after work, Dorene is not there. She lives a few miles down the highway in an extended-care facility. She has been helpless for more than 2 years, and perhaps indefinitely, because of a serious brain injury. Waiting for Ready are his three young children, Andrew, 5, and twins Colin and Jared, 3.

Ready goes home, where he must be the rock, the one with the will so strong that he is uneasy explaining it.

"You do what you got to do," he says softly.

On June 13, 1986, the day Ready played his first game as a Padre after having been acquired from the Milwaukee Brewers, Dorene collapsed on the floor of their home in Tucson. She was unconscious for 7 to 10 minutes. During much of that time, her brain was deprived of oxygen.

Ready left his team, canceling his season, to care for her and their children.

Dorene never really woke up. Today she lives in a special home in Del Mar, unable to care for herself, unable to walk, her voice never rising above a whisper. Ready lives a few miles away with his sister, Cindy, who helps him with the children.

On the field, much is made of his versatility--he is a second baseman, third baseman, left fielder. Yet that is nothing compared to his roles at home, where he is husband, father and mother.

He visits Dorene every other day. He brings her home for events such as birthday parties. Her condition has improved only enough so that she can initiate five phrases. Ready keeps track. One is, "I love you."

He has done diapers, baby food, sloppy baths and messy breakfasts.

He does the disciplining. Only, this is when the pain is truly shared.

"To be spanking them and hear them shout, 'I want my mommy,' that kills me," Ready said. "What can I tell them, that I want her, too?"

Then he comes to the ballpark. When the Padres finish this weekend in Houston, Ready will likely finish batting about .260, with half a dozen or more homers and more than 30 RBIs. Teammates will say that they are amazed.

"I don't know what's going on in that little man's head, but something is definitely clicking that keeps him going," Tony Gwynn said. "That man is tough ."

He rejoined the team last season and hit .309 with a career-high 12 homers and 54 RBIs. Teammates were so impressed that several, despite having a batting champion and rookie of the year on the same club, quietly wanted him to be voted the team's most valuable player.

They continue to look at him with respect bordering on awe. Ready has come to represent the work ethic and comeback spirit of the 1988 club as no other player has.

"He'll even joke about it--when he leaves the clubhouse he'll look over his shoulder and say, 'Well, I'm headed back to reality,' " Tim Flannery said. "I don't know how he gets by day to day. Honest, I don't."

Ask him how he gets by, and he looks at you as if you've just asked him how he puts on his socks. He just does.

"I guess if you got a problem, you confront it," Ready said. "You be realistic about it, you do what you can, then you rely on your faith for the rest.

"People keep telling me that my life has to get better. I have to believe them."

If the words sound careful, well, this is the first interview he has given on his off-the-field life in more than a year. Throughout the end of last season and this spring, he answered constant questions about his wife by running his finger across his throat. It meant you could ask him anything but that.

He doesn't want to be made a hero. He doesn't want to be made a martyr. All he wants is more starts than benchings, and a few pitchers who aren't afraid to elevate a fastball.

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