It's impossible for Gus Triandos to reconstruct what happened on that Sunday morning in mid-February when the delivery van he was driving went full throttle against a tree.
He doesn't remember any of it ... the noise of crushed steel, the ambulance ride, the emergency operations and how doctors and nurses were monitoring his every breath -- the fragile link between life and death.
Now, more than four months later, at the Santa Clara Valley Medical Center in San Jose, Calif., he looks across the hospital room at the wheelchair and realizes how far he has come. The road to recovery is finally accessible. He's alert, fully conscious and cognizant of the long rehabilitation that awaits.
He spent 9 1/2 weeks in the intensive care unit. Both of his lungs were punctured, and he suffered eight broken ribs, extensive facial injuries and serious damage to both legs. A bleeding stomach ulcer concerned doctors and, during four hours of surgery, he required 28 pints of blood. But Triandos, 58, doesn't want to dwell on any of that. He admits that "some kind of a miracle kept me alive."
He's also aware of how impressively his alma mater, the Baltimore Orioles, is playing and what young Mickey Tettleton is contributing. Tettleton, specifically, has put up an early challenge to Triandos' team record for most home runs by a catcher. If injury or a slump doesn't intervene, Tettleton should surpass the 30 homers that Triandos hit in 1958.
When Tettleton, who has hit 16 homers in less than half the season, was reminded of Triandos' record, he said he had never heard of the catcher who played for the Orioles from 1955 to 1962.
"That's understandable," said Triandos, unconcerned. "He wasn't even born when I was around." (Tettleton was born Sept. 16, 1960.)
"Tell him I said to go out and break the record," Triandos said. "That's why they have them. Besides, I never appreciated an old athlete putting down the modern player. I'm certainly not going to be sitting around worrying about anything so minor as most home runs by an Oriole catcher."
Triandos was such a Baltimore hero that a street in Timonium was named for him, Triandos Drive. A strong-throwing catcher who was capable of making all the plays, he also had exceptional power to left-center. But, apart from ability, his most endearing personal characteristic was that he never took himself too seriously.
He was quick to pick up a dinner check and told rookies, "I'm making more than the minimum salary, so let me have that." That he was three times an All-Star for the Orioles and later was to catch Jim Bunning's perfect game for the Philadelphia Phillies in 1964 meant he had a high degree of excellence in a career that covered 13 major-league seasons.
Even with his present problems, Gus is not one to dwell on the harsh reality that he's in the throes of a long, hard physical comeback. It is his second serious accident. Ten years ago a visitor from a foreign country went through a stop sign in Northern California and almost killed Triandos. Before the police could make an arrest and assess traffic charges, the man fled to the Far East to evade all the legal and financial responsibilities.
Visitors from baseball, such as Don Larsen, Wayne Belardi, Jim Gentile and Frank Zupo, have come to see him at the Santa Clara Valley Medical Center. There have been telephone calls and letters from other former baseball associates, including Brooks Robinson, Lou Sleater, John "Boog" Powell, Lou Grasmick and Billy Hunter.
"Yeah, people have really been nice," he said. But it's only lately his old friends have heard about the second accident and his long hospitalization. His weight is now at 215, which means he's 50 pounds lighter than he was that morning four months ago, when he was returning from visiting a daughter and either fell asleep or blacked out and went crashing into a tree by the side of the highway.
Triandos has always been annoyed when the players of yesteryear put down the current, or so-called modern, performers in baseball and other sports.
"It doesn't take much class to do that," he said. "There's an old football lineman who puts the rap on everybody playing today. I even called up a friend of his in Baltimore to tell him to knock it off. All he's doing is making himself look bad."
What Tettleton, the Oriole catcher three decades after Triandos, is doing hasn't escaped his interest. "Hell, do me a favor, and tell him to go break the record," he said. "I don't know if I'll ever get back to Baltimore for a visit but, if I do, I sure will congratulate him. When you think about it, how can it really be that important?"
Of much more personal meaning to him is the way his wife, Evelyn, two married daughters and their husbands, have rallied to offer constant encouragement, plus keeping the delivery business he owns in full operation. "They've sacrificed, worked hard and I feel bad over what happened because it has made so much trouble for all of them."
But Gus Triandos shouldn't dwell on that. He just wants Mickey Tettleton, a catcher he reads about, to know that when home run No. 31 comes along that he will somehow, someway, get on his feet and cheer the accomplishment with all the sincerity he can offer. Now that's a man -- a professional, too.