Nobody in the Orioles' organization suffered more over the last few weeks of the season than first base coach Carlos Bernhardt, and it had nothing to do with baseball.
Hurricane Georges had torn through the Dominican Republic, leaving one of the poorest nations in the Caribbean in ruins. Because phone lines were down, Bernhardt had no way of reaching his family in San Pedro de Macoris. He tried not to assume the worst as the remaining games passed by without word from his wife and three children.
When the Orioles arrived in Boston in the early morning of Sept. 24 for their final series, Bernhardt had a message waiting for him at the ballpark. It came from his youngest daughter, and it brought a sense of relief that no victory could match.
"Daddy, this is Jeanette calling from the Dominican Republic. Everybody's OK."
And so, finally, was Bernhardt.
If only that had been the end of his worries.
Though his home was spared except for some minor damage to windows and doors, his mother-in-law wasn't so fortunate. Her home, made of lumber and just a 10-minute drive from Bernhardt's, was leveled. Luckily, she had taken refuge in Bernhardt's sturdier concrete dwelling.
"By the time the hurricane hit in my hometown, there were maybe 12, maybe 14 people in my house. And they stayed there," said Bernhardt, who was without power until Oct. 7.
More than 260 people reportedly were killed and 100,000 left homeless in the Dominican, and San Pedro de Macoris was among the hardest-hit areas. Chicago Cubs outfielder Sammy Sosa, who still makes his home there, began a relief effort that has raised almost $300,000. Food and supplies are being collected and shipped to the Dominican, and Sosa is using the $8,500 presented to him by Chicago city officials earlier this month to aid his countrymen.
"People in America have been very supportive," Sosa said before Game 1 of the World Series. "Everything that they've given me, I'm going to go back to my country and give it back to my people. They don't have any houses."
Catholic Relief Services of Baltimore also is helping victims by accepting contributions and providing food, medical supplies and other basic necessities.
The Orioles, meanwhile, have taken generous strides to assist Bernhardt, whose mother, 10 brothers and one sister also live in San Pedro. The players held a meeting in Boston, took up a collection and presented him with various checks totaling about $19,000. Some of them met privately with Bernhardt, knowing his pride might make it difficult to accept the money.
"I've known a lot of these guys for a long time. They've got big hearts. I had no idea they were going to do this," said Bernhardt, who signed a three-year contract to return to his previous job as Orioles scouting director in the Dominican.
"Eric Davis called me over and I thought, 'Oh my God, what did I do?' I thought I did something wrong. He handed me the envelope and said, 'We'd like to help you out.' And let me tell you, when he finished, I started crying. I forget how to speak Spanish, I forget how to speak English. I don't know what to say. A bunch of guys were around me, and I found out for myself they like me as a person and they like me as a coach. I just went to my locker and started crying again."
Cal Ripken approached Bernhardt and handed him a check. "He said, 'Carlos, you've helped me a lot. You've been my friend for 14 years. I never do anything for you. You do a lot of things for me. Please accept that.' Imagine a guy like Cal Ripken comes to my locker and talks to me the way he did."
Rafael Palmeiro placed an arm around Bernhardt. Harold Baines hugged him tight. "They know the way I am," Bernhardt said. "They know that I'm your friend because I'm your friend, not because you're making $4 or $5 million."
The players also had intended to auction equipment through the club's Web site until owner Peter Angelos stepped forward. On that same day in Boston, vice chairman Joe Foss handed Bernhardt a check from Angelos for $25,000.
"He's been a great contributor to the success of the team for years, before we took over the ballclub and certainly since then," Angelos said. "He's been a stalwart of the organization, and a great guy."
Bernhardt said the money "more than covered" the repairs and rebuilding of his family's homes, and he's been able to help some close friends. His mother-in-law should be able to move back into her house within the next week, and Bernhardt is planning for the restoration of a nearby ball field that he said is "completely gone."
If only the memories of the week leading to his daughter's call would disappear. She finally reached him only because their cell phone started to work again.
"She had to go down to the beach to communicate with me. That's the only way she could get through," he said.
"For six or seven days, I had no way to communicate with my family. You don't know anything. It was tough. You hear the news, but that's all. I was going crazy."
The joy of knowing they were safe made everything else seem almost insignificant.
"I'm the kind of person who believes that we're born with no clothes, and later on we get some clothes. Material things don't mean anything to me.
"The important thing is life. My whole family is OK. I cannot ask for any more than that," Bernhardt said.
"There are too many people over here who have been killed or have disappeared. I've got my family."
To make a contribution, call Catholic Relief Services at 410-234-2981.
Pub Date: 10/22/98