YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Back on his feet again

Reliever Cordero is at Angels camp trying for a comeback after an injury and a tragedy took a toll on his career

March 07, 2013|BILL DWYRE
  • In 2010, Chad Cordero's daughter, Tehya, died from sudden infant death syndrome. She was 11 weeks old.
In 2010, Chad Cordero's daughter, Tehya, died from sudden infant… (Charlie Riedel / Assocaited…)

TEMPE, ARIZ. — Sometime this baseball season, ideally at Angel Stadium, Chad Cordero hopes to jog out of the bullpen to the pitching mound.

There will be a couple of thousand people in the stands who will take note of the moment, who will know. Angels broadcasters will bring fans watching and listening up to date.

Angels players will know. Cordero says there have been many pats on the back and words of encouragement here in spring training.

"These guys have been great," Cordero says. "We talk about it."

The often unspoken topic in any room Cordero occupies is a little girl named Tehya. She was the second child of Chad and Jamie Cordero and was 11 weeks old when she died of SIDS. That stands for Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, which claims one of every 2,000 births in this country annually. The name gives little hint of a cause. That's because they have yet to find one.

Tehya's death was textbook SIDS. On the night of Dec. 3, 2010, she was put to bed in her crib and an hour later, when checked on, she wasn't breathing. SIDS offers no answer.

There should be no guilt because, as doctors point out, there is nothing anybody is guilty of.

But removing guilt doesn't erase the agony. Cordero will always feel that. The trick is managing it.

He is not some rookie in a major league spring fishbowl. Cordero will turn 31 on March 18. In 2005, as a member of the Washington Nationals, he led the major leagues with 47 saves and pitched in the All-Star game. Between '05 and '07, he accumulated 113 saves, and that got him mentioned in the same breath as the Padres' Trevor Hoffman, the gold standard of late-inning rescuers in those days.

But an injury to his right throwing shoulder that required surgery set him back, the 95 mph fastballs slowing to 86 mph. And his daughter died.

The first comeback attempt was just two months after he and his wife received the call at home in Huntington Beach from Cordero's parents, Edward and Patti, that Tehya, whom they were baby-sitting at their home in Chino, was dead.

"I don't know how I was able to drive," Cordero says now.

Chad and Jamie had taken the night off. Jamie, a former gymnast at Cal State Fullerton, where she and Chad met, was recovering from ankle surgery. The grandparents had offered to baby-sit. Patti discovered Tehya less than an hour after she had put her to sleep.

The family went along with Cordero to Florida and to the Toronto Blue Jays camp that spring of 2011. For Cordero, baseball was meant to be therapeutic. It didn't work.

"I'd cry in the clubhouse, cry on buses," Cordero says.

Comebacks became exercises in futility. A month ago, Cordero found himself pitching in a Fullerton alumni game. He was in shape, some 35 pounds lighter than he was in much of his previous playing days. His velocity was returning. So his agent, Larry Reynolds -- the same agent who couldn't persuade the Angels to keep Torii Hunter -- took some cellphone video, called Angels General Manager Jerry Dipoto, and Cordero got another shot.

Cordero started in the minor league clubhouse but has since moved into the big-boy digs at Tempe Diablo Stadium. There have been bumps in the road. On Monday, he got rocked by the Oakland Athletics for six runs and five hits in two-thirds of an inning.

"I knew there'd be days like this," Cordero said afterward. "I just didn't want it to be that soon. My arm felt good. ... Physically, I felt good."

The mental comeback began, Cordero says, at Christmas a year after Tehya's death.

"That first Christmas, we were zombies," Cordero says.

When Tehya died, they had another daughter, Riley. Now, they also have a son, Cooper, born in January 2012. Cooper's first words, after hearing family discussions and viewing a special picture on the wall, were "Tey-Tey."

Cordero's hopes and expectations are that he can do well enough here to be sent to triple-A Salt Lake City, then work his way to the Angels.

When and if that happens, when that return moment to the mound occurs, television will have an extra visual opportunity to tell the story. On Cordero's right forearm is a tattoo of a little girl's face. Cordero had it done three days after Tehya's death.


Times staff writer Mike DiGiovanna contributed to this column.

Los Angeles Times Articles