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Though Wickander had promised to participate in substance-abuse counseling, he says he soon returned to his itinerant, meth-fueled ways.

John Sloss, a Scottsdale criminal-justice consultant who prepared a report on Wickander's behalf before the recent sentencing, says, "When the glory days and the money was gone, so was his support group. Kevin never did learn how to deal with defeat, or with day-to-day life outside of pro sports. I'm talking about the ability to face reality."

Continues Sloss, a onetime chair of the Arizona Board of Pardons and Paroles: "I think that his charm, good looks and ability to articulate became a disservice to him, during and after baseball."

Wickander says his girlfriend, Melissa Hernandez, left him before his February arrest. (The pair later resumed their relationship.) He says Hernandez had become pregnant with his child in late 2001, but couldn't tolerate his incessant drug use. Hernandez, who didn't respond to requests for an interview, gave birth to a daughter earlier this year.

"I was smoking meth every day by then," Wickander says. "Didn't have no family, my girl had left me, didn't feel like cutting tile anymore. I was just living to meet my connection, the never-ending cycle."

Sensing that something momentous was about to happen, Wickander says he asked his father to take possession of the items that still meant so much to him -- his college title ring, his wedding ring, and Steve Olin's watch.

On February 12, Phoenix police arrested Wickander for theft, a few days after the burglary of a computer, a photocopying machine and other property from a north Phoenix rental firm. He denied committing the theft, but admitted he'd let an associate stash the stolen items in a home he was remodeling. If he hadn't gotten caught, Wickander told authorities, he would have fenced the stolen goods, and split the proceeds with the actual thief.

This time, finally, Wickander faced a guarantee of serious prison time, up to 13 years on the single theft count. His Phoenix-based attorney, Warren Levenbaum, knew prosecutors would be demanding a mandatory prison sentence, because Wickander had continued to commit crimes while on probation.

In July, Wickander pleaded guilty to the theft charge. Under the conditions of his plea bargain, probation would not be a possibility, and he faced up to six and a half years in prison. That's what deputy county attorney Katherine Macrae and probation officer Roger Humphries wanted Judge Peter Reinstein to impose.

"While [Wickander] is articulate, educated and personable," Humphries wrote in a presentence report, "his performance has been minimal at best. He . . . has repeatedly made cognizant decisions continuing to use illegal drugs and committing new offenses against the public."

Levenbaum hired John Sloss to prepare an "alternative sentencing proposal" for the judge.

"Mr. Wickander went from being on top of the world as a major league baseball player to depths that he never dreamed were possible," Sloss wrote. "Mr. Wickander appears to have gone from one setback to another, and demonstrated a total loss of how to get his life back on track."

Sloss' report included a letter in which Grand Canyon president Stafford said he will offer Wickander a job as a pitching coach at the school after prison.

"I think Kevin has a lot to offer college kids by working with them and telling them what he's gone through," Stafford tells New Times. "He's had more than his share of life issues, some of them his doing and some of them not his doing, like the boat accident. Hopefully, we'll be a big part of the support groups he'll need when he gets out -- that's the only way he'll possibly survive."

At Kevin Wickander's sentencing on September 19, his parents expressed both love for their son and heartbreak over what has happened to him.

"Kevin has lots of friends and family who love him," Ardith Wickander said, "but drugs took over his life. The seven months he's been in jail have been a blessing in disguise. . . . I think he's realizing what he's done to his family, his career, and most of all, to himself."

Jerry Wickander then told Reinstein, "Kevin didn't pay attention of how people have to work and do the right thing. We tried to do everything we could, but we haven't run into anything like this before."

Melissa Hernandez promised the judge that she'll be there for Wickander when he gets out of prison -- "I love him very much, and I'll give him all the support he needs."

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Paul Rubin
Contact: Paul Rubin