Speedball

The story you never read on the back of a baseball card

Though Stafford says Wickander had excellent work habits on the ball field, some of the pitcher's other exploits had profound repercussions. While at Grand Canyon, he impregnated a young woman who gave birth to a daughter, now 19. (Wickander says he's had little contact with that daughter, though Maricopa County court records show her mother won thousands of dollars in back child support in 1998.)

Wickander says he dabbled with marijuana in high school, but didn't like it. He says he snorted cocaine a few times during college, then swore it off because "I didn't want to ruin my chances at going pro."

Those odds became better as his career at Grand Canyon blossomed. During Wickander's freshman year, he beat cross-town rival Arizona State University, which had on its squad a talented left fielder named Barry Bonds -- "Fastball in on his hands, maybe another, then hook him down and away," Wickander says of how he pitched the future star.

Kevin Wickander at the Maricopa County Jail, September 2002.
Paul Rubin
Kevin Wickander at the Maricopa County Jail, September 2002.
Grand Canyon University president Gil Stafford on Kevin Wickander (far left, top): "He was a local neighborhood kid who wanted to win really bad."
Grand Canyon University president Gil Stafford on Kevin Wickander (far left, top): "He was a local neighborhood kid who wanted to win really bad."

In 1986, Wickander led Grand Canyon to the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) crown, the pinnacle for a small college program. He says the Cleveland Indians then drafted him late in the first round, and offered a $100,000 signing bonus. Club archives, however, indicate it was the second round, though he was accurate about the bonus.

Teams ever are on the prowl for competent southpaw pitchers, and the Cleveland chain groomed Wickander to face left-handed hitters in the late innings, usually in pressure situations. (It's a role similar to that of Arizona Diamondbacks lefty Mike Myers, who pitched in 69 games this season, but threw only 39 innings. His salary: $1.5 million.)

At the end of the 1989 season, the Indians called up the 24-year-old Wickander from their Triple-A team. He says he recorded his first big league out against future Hall of Famer Robin Yount -- now a D-Backs coach. After the game, Wickander says, he adjourned to a pub to celebrate his major league christening as he had in the minors -- by drinking himself into oblivion.

In the majors, Wickander says he quickly embraced the amphetamines that he claims were readily available in Cleveland's clubhouse -- those so-called "white crosses."

"There were cases of the stuff around every big league clubhouse I ever was in," he says. "About half the guys did crosses' as part of their day. It pushes you an extra two hours, which helps over a 162-game schedule. I got right into them, pitched on them, enjoyed them."

Cleveland's clubhouse, he continues, typically had three pots of coffee brewing before and during games. "There was your caffeinated, your decaf, and the third pot -- it usually had a red line around it. They called it The Mud. It was like syrup, molasses, because it had a ton of white crosses ground into it. You drink two or three little cups and, wham."

A spokesperson for the Indians denies any knowledge of the so-called "Mud," and says Wickander's recollection is incorrect.

Wickander made the opening-day roster of the 1990 Indians, and started well. But that May, he shattered his pitching elbow in a fall on a concrete runway at Anaheim Stadium. The injury ended his season.

He says he tried to corral his growing depression over the turn of events with alcohol.

"I wasn't a nasty drunk," he says, "and people around me thought I was pretty cool. Maybe since I always picked up the tab, even though I wasn't rolling in it."

Major leaguers didn't make nearly the money in the early 1990s that they do today. Records indicate Wickander made $100,000 in 1990, and the most he ever collected in the majors was $290,000 in 1996, his final season.

Wickander worked hard at rehabilitating his elbow, though he didn't make the major league club out of spring training. Sent to Triple-A Colorado Springs to get back into game shape, Wickander drank so much and so publicly there that Cleveland's brass took the unusual step of ordering him into an inpatient alcohol-rehab program.

He stayed there for 30 days, and says he only rarely has had a drink in the decade since then.

The Indians gave Wickander another chance at the start of the 1992 season. Again, the team sent him to Triple-A, where he performed admirably and got recalled to Cleveland that May. Within a few days, he earned his first save as a major leaguer.

That May 28, Wickander married his high school sweetheart, Kim Pennington, at a wedding chapel in Las Vegas. Wickander's best man was fellow Indians relief pitcher Steve Olin, a good-natured family man with whom he'd risen through the minor league ranks.

The wedding date also marked the first anniversary since Wickander had gone into rehab.


Kevin Wickander excelled for the remainder of the 1992 season, appearing in 44 games. He says he went to spring training in Florida in 1993 fully expecting his best year yet.

But on March 22, 1993, came the tragedy that would define the rest of Wickander's baseball career and, in a way, the rest of his life.

It was the Indians' only day off during spring training, and pitchers Olin, Bob Ojeda and Tim Crews got together with their families for a day of riding horses, fishing and picnicking.

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12 comments
deltazeta
deltazeta

Hi, I'm looking to get a hold of Kevin for the Cortez High School class of 1983 Reunion  this summer (2012). I am helping Sandra Cook with finding former students who have gone MIA, and am working from the bottom of the list up.  If anyone can send me a current phone number or address (I've narrowed him down to Glendale, AZ), please contact me at deltazeta@cox.net.  Thank you.

Smrtagent
Smrtagent

This is so sad. The Kevin I knew was not doing meth when we were together.

Amphetamine Addiction
Amphetamine Addiction

Speedball 2 Evolution Out for PSP Next Week The Bitmap Brothers classic futuristic sports game will be going live on Sony PSP via the Playstation Network Store next week as a Minis game. Following Speedball 2 Evolution's

JST Books
JST Books

Marijuana contains the chemical THC which is a mood and mind altering drug. THC occurs naturally in marijuana plants and when taken into the body causes a ‘high’ feeling in the brain. Marijuana is most commonly smoked, although it can be ingested in the form of various foods. It has not been scientifically proven that marijuana or THC is addictive, however if used over extended periods of time in a habitual manner, a person can develop a dependence on marijuana.The Rehab Doc

snmseo
snmseo

As more of the effects became obvious, amphetamine was used in various forms by the slimming industry to help people reduce their weight quickly. The name amphetamine is taken from an organic chemical compound (alphap-methylphenethylamine).Amphetamine Addiction

oh_myy
oh_myy

I am the young woman who was "awarded" thousands of dollars. Gosh my daughter wishes he would come back in her life. As the article state's , after livin a boy's dream, it's hard to live a life of no fans cheering you on. Story say's it all. It's never to late

Charles Osborne
Charles Osborne

This kid is my younger cousin who I looked up to. I felt disappointed in him when this happened. But I like God will always love him no matter what his faults are. He is a great guy / and a great man that has suffered with our family losses. His grt grandparents Floyd & Mary Garrett, His grand father, Jack L Garrett Sr, Grt Aunt Carole June Garrett Osborne, grt Uncle Robert Garrett, and his best friends on the Cleveland Orginization . We will miss them all and love them all .

Diz
Diz

I knew Kevin, personally, several years ago. I am just now reading this article, and feel great sadness for him. I hope Kevin is alright. This is one of those times when you hear about someone you know, or knew at one time, and something goes wrong in their life - that you wish you could have been there - and possibly made a difference. I'm so sorry Kevin!

l williams
l williams

I knew Kevin through a friend of mine named Joe Skalski. They both pitched for the Indians. I always liked "Flash", he is a great guy.

 
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