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Howe's Spirit Is Kept Alive

His wife and children represent the late reliever on a night the Dodgers' 1981 World Series champions are honored.

September 17, 2006|Ben Bolch | Times Staff Writer

The 1981 World Series heroes gathered on the left side of the Dodger Stadium infield Saturday evening for one more team photo, the image having changed a bit since that glorious fall long ago.

Standing among the collection of men with receding hairlines and expanding waistlines was a trim college freshman wearing a white jersey with "Howe" draped across the back. Next to him was his 23-year-old sister, clad in jeans and a black sleeveless top.

Brian and Chelsi Howe were here because their father could not be. Steve Howe, who had pitched the final four innings of the Dodgers' World Series-clinching victory in 1981, died in April when his truck drifted off Interstate 10 in Coachella and repeatedly flipped.

It was a tragic ending to a life that had been beset by years of drug and alcohol abuse and ended all too abruptly at age 48.

So it was with heavy hearts that Howe's son and daughter joined their father's old teammates in the Dodgers dugout. They were introduced along with the former players, receiving a warm reception from the crowd. And as they took their father's place along the third-base line, they were embraced with hugs and handshakes.

"It's obviously an honor to be here and stand in his place, but it's definitely been hard not having him here," said Chelsi Howe, who had flown in from her home in Whitefish, Mont. "He's always kind of been the life of the party."

Howe played for the Dodgers for five of his 12 major league seasons, but the stadium holds few, if any, memories for his children. Chelsi was only a toddler when her father departed the Dodgers for the Minnesota Twins in 1985, and Brian wasn't born until 1987.

But the memories nearly engulfed Cynthia Howe, Steve's wife.

"It was hard when I first got here and saw everybody because, of course, after you meet somebody, the first thing they say is, 'I'm sorry for your loss,' " Cynthia Howe said. "It was hard to not be here with him leading us around and talking to everybody."

Cynthia described her late husband as a father who was fully devoted to his children. He coached them at every level, most recently tutoring Brian in the finer points of pitching at Valencia High.

"He got me where I am now," said Brian, a freshman at Loyola Marymount who plans to play for the Lions this season. "I couldn't have done it without him."

Chelsi said she was home-schooled until the ninth grade so that she could be a constant travel companion for her father, whose career ended when the New York Yankees released him during the 1996 season. She said her father treasured the memory of her racing out of the dugout as a young child and exclaiming, 'Dad, I want a hotgog on the grill, toasty bun."

"All the guys would be like, 'Oh, hotgog on the grill, toasty bun,' " Chelsi said. "I was always the clown."

Brian said his father would occasionally talk about the 1981 season, though more for the pranks he pulled than the games he won. Only one year after being selected National League rookie of the year, Howe appeared in 41 games and finished 25, with eight saves.

"Although he was young, we knew that he was our go-to guy and a big part of the team," said former Dodgers second baseman Steve Sax, a teammate of Howe's for nine seasons.

Once the Dodgers reached the 1981 World Series, Cynthia recalled "being so nervous because they were counting on Steve so much. Gosh, there was so much pressure. I was only 21 years old, so I was nervous."

Said Chelsi: "It's always been a big part of our lives. We have all the memorabilia at home."

Saturday, they had the love in their hearts.

ben.bolch@latimes.com

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