Lost phenom finds his way

THE BALTIMORE SUN

NEW BRITIAN, Conn. -- People kept expecting Steve Dalkowski to die. When he was a heat-throwing, hell-raising pitcher in the Orioles' minor-league system in the late 1950s and early 1960s, he made a bet with Earl Weaver, one of the many managers who tried to harness his awesome potential. "You won't live to see 33," said Weaver, believing Dalkowski's nightime habits eventually would do him in. When Dalkowski turned 33 in the early 1970s, he called Weaver and said, "Ha, I made it."

In 1994, his head clouded with dementia after years of alcoholic wanderings in California, he came back to live in this factory town where he had been a schoolboy star.

"The word given to me was he wasn't going to last much longer," said his sister, Patti Cain.

As she spoke, Cain stood outside the door of a hotel room. Inside, an ESPN camera crew was interviewing Dalkowski, whose legend as one of the fastest pitchers in history endures.

"Stevie couldn't have done this two years ago, couldn't have gotten his thoughts together and conversed," Cain said.

Dalkowski, 64 and sober since 1994, lives in a double room at the Walnut Hill Care Center, a nursing home just down the hill from the fence-less, grass-less diamond where he began to attract attention in high school.

Dave McNally, Cal Ripken Sr., Bo Belinsky and others from his generation in Orioles history have died, but Dalkowski, the one everyone thought would go first, is safe at home.

"Things are good," he said recently.

His life careened through a succession of extremes before reaching this gentle autumn; he was a 100-mph phenom in the 1950s, a living legend in the 1960s and then a lost cause for more than a quarter century, drifting in and out of trouble. Unable to make a living from his gifted pitching arm, he was reduced to picking fruit.

Yet many who crossed paths with him - from no-nonsense baseball lifers to the friends of his youth - to this day call Dalkowski the most unforgettable character they have known.

"I've been around a long time, and I know baseball stories tend to get embellished over time, but no one was more unbelievable than this guy," said Seattle Mariners general manager Pat Gillick. The former Orioles GM played with Dalkowski on Weaver's Eastern League team in Elmira, N.Y., in the early 1960s.

He had the talent "to string together years like [Sandy] Koufax," Weaver said, but his greatest claim to fame is as screenwriter Ron Shelton's inspiration for Nuke LaLoosh, the hard-living, hard-throwing minor-leaguer in Bull Durham.

But unlike the movie's LaLoosh, who gets called up to the majors, Dalkowski never pitched in "The Show."

He came close in 1963. Heartbreakingly, after he had finally earned a place on the Orioles' staff at the age of 25 and after years in the minor leagues, he injured his arm in the last inning of his last exhibition game that spring.

Forty hard years later, Dalkowski, who had never felt a twinge of pain in his arm, remembered what he felt leaving the mound that day in Miami.

"I thought, 'Why me?' " he recalled.

His life today, supported by a Connecticut program for those who can't provide for themselves, is surprisingly normal. He experiences depression, a common side effect of dementia, and is overweight, but his health and outlook are vastly improved.

Dalkowski goes to minor-league baseball games and high school football games with his sister and childhood friends. He spends holidays with family, playing cards and watching TV with his nephews, who can't quite believe their uncle was once the hardest thrower of them all.

"It's like a miracle - his life is pretty good," said Tom Chiappetta, director of media relations for Fox Sports Net, who has spent the past eight years working on a still-in-progress documentary on Dalkowski.

He was supposed to be dead.

But he got up and gave a speech to a packed ballroom two years ago when he was inducted into the New Britain High School Sports Hall of Fame.

And last year, when University of Connecticut baseball coach Andy Baylock asked him to address the squad, he stilled the young players with an emotional plea. "Stevie said, 'Please don't be like me. Listen to your coach. Do what he says,' " Baylock said.

In other words, don't drink your life away.

"He's back in his hometown, sober and stable and around people who really care about him," said Baylock, a former teammate. "I saw him recently and he was rattling off the names of people and games even I didn't remember from the 1950s. His baseball memory is amazing."

That's fitting, because no one had a more amazing - or frustrating - baseball life.

Dalkowski was born with the game in his veins in New Britain, a working-class suburb of Hartford, filled with ethnic families and known as the "Hardware City" because of what its factories produced. Steve Dalkowski Sr. worked on a tool-and-die line and played shortstop in an industrial baseball league. His wife also had a factory job. They moved with Steve and Patti into a housing project when Steve was in sixth grade.

"Steve's father loved baseball," recalled Baylock, who lived around the corner. "He'd drive us to our games when it was too far to ride our bikes."

Steve and his father played catch in the yard "until he couldn't catch me anymore," Dalkowski said. That was in eighth grade.

Fast from the beginning

The youngster's fastball was heating up.

His signature pitch was a freak of nature, inexplicable within the boundaries of reason. Dalkowski was of average size, never reaching 6 feet, with an inconspicuous build, poor eyesight and a short attention span. Neither his father nor any of his little league coaches helped with his mechanics.

He just wound up and threw left-handed as hard as he could with a simple motion that came naturally.

The result was astounding.

"It came in so hard that it made a loud buzzing sound," said Dalkowski's coach at Washington Junior High School, Vin Cazzetta, who went on to coach college and pro basketball. "He was already a phenom by the time he got to me. No one wanted any part of him."

After observing the ninth-grader on Cazzetta's team, the high school coach ordered his catcher to go out and buy the best glove he could find.

The movement of Dalkowski's fastball was even more stunning than its speed.

Some fastballs fly so straight, the saying goes, you can drop them down a pipe and they won't touch the sides. Former Oriole Ben McDonald's fastball was an example. Its lack of movement was a shortcoming.

Dalkowski's was the antithesis of a straight fastball.

"It took off like a jet as it got near the plate," Gillick recalled.

The ball rose so sharply as it traveled that Len Pare, New Britain High School's catcher, ordered Dalkowski to throw at batters' ankles.

"The ball would almost hit the ground after he threw it," Pare recalled, "but it would rise and rise, and by the time it got to the plate, I'd be jumping up to catch it."

Consensus among longtime baseball observers on any topic is rare, but just about everyone who saw Dalkowski's fastball agrees: They've never seen another like it.

"And I'm pretty sure I never will," Gillick said.

How could such an ordinary-looking guy throw such an extraordinary pitch?

"I heard he was double-jointed at the shoulder, elbow and wrist - ask him about that," Gillick said.

Dalkowski laughed at the idea.

"Tell Gillick he's crazy," he said. "It's just the way I threw."

Other possible explanations?

"He had long arms, big hands, and his delivery was nice and fluid," said Bill Huber, his high school coach. "He had that whipping action you want."

There was just one problem. His fastball was so fast and rose so much that Dalkowski couldn't control it.

As a sophomore making his second start for the varsity in the spring of 1955, he walked 18, struck out 18 and stranded 20. He needed 173 pitches to complete nine innings and win, 11-3.

"He stood out there for hours and threw balls and strikes, balls and balls, balls and strikes," Huber said. "The count went to 3-2 on every batter."

Pare went out to counsel the young pitcher so often that his cleats shaped a long rut to the mound.

"I'd go out there and remind him, 'Throw at the ankles, hit the batter in the ankles,' so he'd keep the ball down," Pare said. "He'd do it a couple of times, but I think his attention span was pretty short and then he'd miss a couple.

"Fortunately, he seemed to bear down when the bases were loaded and throw the one strike he needed to get the last out."

Why not mix in an occasional breaking ball?

"I don't think he could," Pare said. "There was no communication between us. No signals like 'one for fastball, two for curve.' It was, 'OK, throw the ball.' "

Dalkowski said, "My off-speed stuff was terrible. They hit it. But they didn't hit the fastball. So why throw the other stuff?"

Occasionally, Pare said, Dalkowski would "make a mistake" and bring his left arm straight over the top when delivering instead of slotting the arm at 1 o'clock.

"That pitch flew as straight as could be," Pare said. "It buzzed in heavy and inside, and it was always a strike. I didn't want to catch that one. I broke my hand catching one in legion ball. My gosh, what a vicious pitch."

High school standout

New Britain High was known more for football, and Dalkowski played quarterback, running back and defensive back on teams that won back-to-back state titles in 1955 and 1956.

"Steve was a gifted natural athlete," Baylock said. "He was fast and coordinated and instinctive. Whatever game we played, he was one of the best."

Away from the playing fields, he was an indifferent student, quiet and well-behaved. The city's youth divided into social clubs, and Dalkowski joined the Royal Knights, the jock group.

"He came to the meetings but didn't say much," Pare said.

His attitude toward athletics was exceptional, probably owing to his upbringing in a household in which both parents worked long, hard hours.

"He ran and ran, was in great shape and almost never missed practice," Huber said.

The coach said he had no idea his star was starting to take a drink now and then.

"We knew it," Pare said. "He hung out with some older guys who went in that direction."

The whole town would know some 15 months after Dalkowski's graduation. The local paper published an account of his arrest for drunken driving.

Drinking, it turned out, was another thing he had learned at home. Cain said their father was an alcoholic.

"There were a lot of hard-working, hard-drinking ethnic families in New Britain. We certainly weren't the only ones," she said. "All of our friends were living the same life.

"Both my parents came from large families, so we had a ton of uncles and cousins, and there was always stuff going on. There was some [drinking] dysfunction, but we had a lot of great memories."

Dalkowski's sports career was among the best. Although his football skills generated larger headlines, his fastball was his future. In 1957, he began his senior season with back-to-back no-hitters. Later that spring, with scouts from all 16 major-league teams watching, Dalkowski struck out 24, setting a state record that still stands, and walked just four in shutting out a New London High team that went on to win the state title.

"I just kept getting faster and faster," Dalkowski said.

Many of the boys he faced were eager just to get out of the batter's box without getting beaned. Their only protection was a flimsy plastic liner inside their caps.

"If he'd hit someone in the head, he might have killed them," Pare said. "Fortunately, he never did. But once a game, he'd throw a ball behind a batter. That put the fear of God in everyone. Then his next three pitches would be way outside because he was afraid of hitting the guy. He didn't have to worry about brushing people back. They never dug in. They just wanted out of there. They'd swing at anything. Steve struck out tons of guys without throwing the ball over the plate."

His teammates were fearful, too.

"Our first baseman hated it when Steve walked a batter because there'd be pickoff throws and they came in like bullets," Pare said.

Dalkowski struck out 19 and walked 14 in one of his final starts. New Britain finished with a 9-5 record, out of the playoffs.

"We had one great pitcher and not enough besides him," said Huber, who is now 77 and retired.

Orioles' pitch accepted

After graduation, with pro baseball still almost a decade away from instituting a draft, Dalkowski and his parents fielded offers. The owner of the Pittsburgh Pirates visited, trying to impress him to sign. So did a member of the New York Yankees' front office who was from New Britain. Nine teams contacted Huber.

The Orioles' New England scout was Frank McGowan, a former major-leaguer with an immaculate mane of white-silver hair. His nickname was "Beauty." He won over Dalkowski by offering a $4,000 signing bonus - the maximum allowed at the time - and, according to Dalkowski, $12,000 under the table, a new car and $1,000 a month to play in the minors.

"Their money under the table was the best," Dalkowski said. "That made up my mind."

Harry Dalton was the Orioles' assistant farm director in 1957. The franchise was still struggling after moving from St. Louis before the 1954 season.

"We were glad to get him, but I don't think Dalkowski was a particularly prized plum," Dalton said. "He wasn't a sleeper; people knew about him because he threw so hard. But a lot of scouts felt he'd never harness his control."

The Orioles assigned him to a Class D team in Kingsport, Tenn. His control was horrendous, resulting in 129 walks and 39 wild pitches in 62 innings. He went 1-8 with an 8.83 ERA. But he also struck out 121 and allowed only 22 hits, which were dominating numbers.

Dalton watched him one night in Bluefield, Tenn., playing under dim lights on a converted football field. Dalkowski struck out 24, walked 18 and won, 8-4, overcoming a case of nerves that set in after he beaned a batter. The ball was thrown so hard that it caromed off the batter's plastic helmet and, Dalton said, "landed as a pop fly just inside second base." The batter went to the hospital.

The Orioles brought Dalkowski to their major-league spring training camp in Arizona in 1958. He wasn't ready to advance to Baltimore, but manager Paul Richards, a renowned pitching expert, was eager to work with him. Richards ordered him to throw for up to an hour a day, figuring pitches might not sail over the catcher's head if his arm were tired.

The regimen was absurdly harsh by today's standards.

"It wasn't so smart," Dalkowski said, looking back.

But he progressed to throwing strikes after hours on the mound with Richards and Orioles pitching coach Harry "The Cat" Brecheen.

Orioles coach Eddie Robinson, a retired major-leaguer who had hit 172 homers from 1942 to 1957, got into the cage one morning and missed 10 straight fastballs from Dalkowski. When he finally lifted a weak fly, he called it "a moral victory."

Orioles first baseman Bob Boyd, a superb contact hitter, similarly flailed at a succession of offerings and told reporters: "I've never seen anyone throw harder. If only he had control."

Dalkowski overheard the comment and said, "Don't worry, I'll get it. I'll work until I do."

Richards brought his prized prospect to Baltimore and put him on the mound at Memorial Stadium on April 13, 1958. It was the last inning of an exhibition game against Cincinnati, which the Reds won, 3-2. With 7,868 fans roaring, Dalkowski threw his first warm-up pitch over the head of catcher Joe Ginsberg, then struck out Don Hoak, Dee Fondy and Alex Grammas on 12 pitches.

Grammas fouled off two pitches before striking out and said, "I've been playing ball for 10 years, and nobody can throw a baseball harder than that."

Fondy attempted three bunts, made contact once, and the foul "must have set a record for [bunting] distance," The Sun reported, landing in a television booth on the mezzanine.

Cincinnati manager Birdie Tebbets had ordered the hitters not to dig in, fearing injuries. "That kid throws too hard for me to take a chance with my boys," he said.

Next, the Orioles sent Dalkowski to the Aberdeen Proving Ground to have his fastball tested for speed on ballistic equipment. Throwing off flat ground, he was clocked at 93.5 mph.

Scouts didn't use radar guns yet but later estimated that he easily surpassed 100 mph.

"It was at least 102, something like that," Dalkowski said.

Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan was clocked at 100.6 in his prime.

"Steve was the fastest I've ever seen," Dalton said.

Dalkowski began the 1958 season with the Knoxville Smokies of the Class A Sally League. He was sharp in his first three starts, and Smokies manager George Staller phoned Richards with the news that he was effectively using his off-speed pitches to set up his fastball.

"Man, how I'd love to peel the cellophane off that guy in Baltimore next year," Richards told reporters.

Dalkowski's prospects were soaring. Then, with shocking abruptness, they crashed. He lost his rhythm and reverted to his wild ways, walking batter after batter as his fastball sailed.

Trying to improve Dalkowski's aim, Staller set up a wooden target over the bullpen plate one day and ordered him to throw balls through it. Dalkowski left it in splinters.

The Orioles pulled him out of Knoxville after 10 starts; he had issued 95 walks in 42 innings. The hitters had been far more fearless and patient than Connecticut high schoolers.

His next stop was a Class B team in Wilson, N.C., where he was even wilder. One warm-up pitch smashed through the backstop screen, scattering fans. That led to another demotion to the Class C Aberdeen (S.D.) Pheasants, managed by Billy DeMars.

"He was already quite well known when he got to us," DeMars recalled. "When he went out to warm up, the fans behind the backstop cleared out."

Dalkowski's struggles intensified as he spent the next three years floundering around the low minors, piling up spectacularly wild records as he pitched for Aberdeen, Pensacola, Fla., Stockton, Calif., and Tri-Cities in the state of Washington.

"I managed him almost every year," DeMars said, "because no one else would take him."

Dalkowski still experienced some heady moments, throwing a no-hitter for Aberdeen in 1959 and leading the California League in strikeouts with 262 in 1960. Of course, he also led the league in walks, with 262.

"Paul and Harry worked with me every spring," Dalkowski recalled. "They told me to keep my elbow up. They moved me around on the rubber and on the mound, changed my stride, my footwork."

The walks, wild pitches and stories continued to pile up.

In Pensacola in 1959, catcher Cal Ripken Sr. failed to block a rising pitch and the ball shattered the umpire's mask, sending the man to the hospital. The next summer, Time magazine profiled Dalkowski in an article headlined "The Wildest Pitcher."

As his career stalled, his drinking accelerated. In Pensacola, he was on the same staff with Belinsky and Steve Barber, two other hard-throwing left-handers who were also wild off the field and on the mound.

"Barber, Belinsky and Dalkowski, there was a Holy Trinity," Dalton recalled with a smile.

Dalkowski roomed with Belinsky, who later went to the Angels in the 1961 expansion draft, threw a no-hitter against the Orioles and dated actress Mamie Van Doren.

"One night, Bo and I went into this place and Steve was in there," Barber recalled in a 1999 interview, "and he says, 'Hey, guys, look at this beautiful sight' - 24 scotch and waters lined up in front of him. And he was pitching the next day. In the fourth inning, they just carried him off the mound."

Herm Starrette, also interviewed in 1999, was another of Dalkowski's roommates. "When I roomed with him, I roomed with a suitcase," he recalled.

"He was a nice guy, a young kid who hadn't matured, and he just didn't know what time of day it was as far as coming in at night. He came in when he got tired of being out, let's put it that way."

Asked years later what he would do differently, Dalkowski said, "Listen to the coaches, don't drink and make curfew."

He missed a few curfews?

"Two or three," he said, smiling. "You'd look up at the clock [in the bar], see it's time to go and say, 'The hell with it; I'll worry about that tomorrow.' "

Dalkowski denied that his late nights affected his pitching.

"Whatever time you came in, you could always sleep until 2 o'clock the next day," he said.

DeMars also said the pitcher's work ethic remained strong even when he was most troubled. "He would do anything you asked, run, whatever; he always worked hard," he said. "But he just didn't have the discipline to take care of himself once the game was over. It was a shame."

Of Dalkowski's drinking, he said: "Once in a while, maybe, but every night? It had to catch up with him."

Ups and downs with O's

The Orioles began to sour on him, wary of his influence on younger players. They left him exposed in the 1961 expansion draft, but he wasn't taken.

Just when it seemed the club was ready to give up on him, he pulled himself together the next year in Elmira, under Weaver. The young manager, who also worked and played hard, connected with the wild, young pitcher.

"You couldn't get him to stop drinking at night, and you couldn't get him to stop running during the day," Weaver told an interviewer later.

"Earl had managed me in Venezuela in winter ball. We got along," Dalkowski said. "He handled me with tough love. He told me to run a lot and don't drink on the night you pitch. Then he gave me the ball and said, 'Good luck.' "

After losing his first three decisions, Dalkowski put together 37 straight scoreless innings.

"I got him not to throw every pitch as hard as he could," Weaver said. "And he developed a slider he could throw over the plate."

Starrette, who became a major-league pitcher and longtime pitching coach, recalled glimpses of control with Dalkowski. "His velocity was maybe down a little, but he finally was pitching instead of just throwing. And Earl would take him out when he wasn't pitching good. Wouldn't let him pitch into jams. Wouldn't let him fail."

The book of true tall tales grew by a chapter that year when, on a dare from Starrette, Dalkowski threw a ball through the outfield fence.

"He said I couldn't do it," Dalkowski recalled. "I got about 15 feet away and threw it right through. Then [catcher] Andy Etchebarren tried to do it, and the ball bounced off."

He finished the 1962 season with a 7-10 record and 3.04 ERA, the best of his career. His success continued the next spring in the Orioles' camp. Pitching in relief, Dalkowski threw six scoreless, hitless innings. Manager Billy Hitchcock joked that he had told the other players not to spook him by uttering the word "control."

"He had the team made easily," Hitchcock recalled.

On the morning of March 22, 1963, he was fitted for a major-league uniform. That afternoon, he came in to pitch against the Yankees at Miami Stadium. He struck out Roger Maris and Elston Howard in the sixth inning, allowed his first hit of the spring to Hector Lopez, then retired the side. Returning for the seventh, he struck out Jim Coates and Phil Linz.

But on his last pitch to Linz, a slider, he lost the feeling in his left hand.

"Came out of nowhere," Dalkowski recalled.

His first pitch to the next batter, Bobby Richardson, flew 15 feet to the left of the catcher. A second pitch was similarly wild.

A dejected Dalkowski went to the clubhouse. The diagnosis: a pinched nerve in his elbow.

McNally, a soft-tossing left-hander, took his place on the staff and went on to win 184 games in 14 seasons.

Dalkowski rehabbed his elbow and pitched well for Elmira in 1963 and Stockton in 1964, but he was no longer a fearsome strikeout king. After the 1964 season, the Orioles traded him to the Pittsburgh Pirates for "Sad" Sam Jones.

That year, there had been an incident in which Dalkowski was pulled over by police, threw his car into reverse and slammed into the cruiser. The Orioles were tired of his drunken act.

Dalkowski retired at the age of 26 after a brief fling with a team in San Jose, Calif., in 1965. "Legend Released," read the headline in The Sporting News.

His career record was 46-80 with a 5.57 ERA. In 995 innings - all in the minors - he had struck out 1,396 and walked 1,354.

The one inning he pitched in Memorial Stadium in the 1958 exhibition game against the Reds was the closest he came to the majors.

"I had to learn to live with that," he said.

He struggled mightily as he tried. Without baseball as an anchor, his life disintegrated. His marriage to a schoolteacher didn't last, and Dalkowski, drinking heavily, wound up working in the fields of the San Joaquin Valley in the 1970s, picking grapes, oranges and lemons, digging potatoes and chopping cotton.

He brought a bottle of wine with him as he picked fruit, rewarding himself at the end of each row.

Alcohol consumed most of his meager wages and kept putting him under the thumb of the law, several times as a forced laborer in road crews. Baseball friends such as former Orioles catcher Frank Zupo and minor-league teammate Ray Youngdahl interceded, paying for him to enter rehab. Dalkowski went willingly but couldn't abstain for long.

"In 1977, I'm at Candlestick Park," said Starrette, then the Giants' pitching coach, "and I'm down in the bullpen warming up a guy before a game, and I look up and there's Steve leaning over the railing.

"The poor guy looked 70. He was staying at Ray Youngdahl's place, and Ray had him in rehab, but he'd go to rehab during the day and come home and get drunk at night."

The Baseball Assistance Team, a Major League Baseball organization that helps former players in need, also tried and failed with Dalkowski.

Every few years, a newspaper writer would track him down and update his tale. Dalkowski remarried in the 1980s, after falling in love with a motel clerk named Virginia. They lived in the Bakersfield, Calif., area with several of her five children. Occasionally he worked as a landscaper.

"Virginia had her hands full," said Cain, Dalkowski's sister. "I don't think she realized what she was getting into when she married him. But she loved him."

Zupo, with documentary-maker Chiappetta in tow, intervened again in 1992.

"We got there on a Saturday afternoon and he was already 38 sheets to the wind," Chiappetta said. "Virginia told us to get there at 8 o'clock the next day, before he hit the booze."

The men persuaded him to check into a hospital near Los Angeles. "The doctors told us he would have been dead after another couple of months of drinking at his pace," Chiappetta said.

When the hospital released Dalkowski to a halfway house, he disappeared for four months late in 1992. He was homeless, living on the streets of Los Angeles. The police couldn't find him, Cain said.

Dalkowski's wife moved back to her native Oklahoma to live with her family.

"Virginia gave up hope that he would be found," Cain said. "I never did."

Drunk and disoriented, Dalkowski approached a woman in a laundromat on Christmas Eve and asked for money. She gleaned enough information to contact his family.

In January 1993, he flew to Oklahoma to live with his wife. A year later, Virginia suffered a stroke and died.

"The time had come to bring Stevie home," Cain said.

He spent two months in an Oklahoma hospital while his medical history was updated, a necessity for him to qualify for aid in Connecticut. The severe drinking had exacted a toll. "There had been some internal bleeding at one point," Cain said. "Incredibly, his liver was OK."

Back to Connecticut

In March 1994, Dalkowski returned to Connecticut. His first few years were difficult; dementia severely limited his ability to relate, and he was taking numerous medications, which affected his moods.

But sobriety, regular meals and medical care at Walnut Hill have improved his lot.

"His biggest problem now is he's too fat," Cain said. "He's kind of living a normal life. He's worked hard to put the other stuff behind him."

Donald Griggs, the chief administrator at Walnut Hill, said: "He used to be reticent and withdrawn, but he's getting along pretty well now. He talks to everyone and partakes in everything. He's one of the most famous people to have come from New Britain, a local boy made good. We're all proud of him."

Regular visitors include old friends Baylock and Pare, and his high school coach, Huber.

"People around here have great affection for Steve because he was always a good guy," Baylock said. "He was never a troublemaker, never a wise guy. He had all that talent, but he wasn't cocky. The only person he hurt was himself."

The temptation to drink lingers. After watching a young relative downing beers at a recent gathering, he said, "I gotta start hanging around with that guy."

Cain snapped, "You don't drink anymore, Steve."

"I don't?" Dalkowski replied with a wan smile.

No, he does not.

But his memories of that life remain. ESPN used its interview with him to enhance a recent broadcast of Bull Durham. Identified as the "real Nuke LaLoosh," Dalkowski laughed as he recounted a few tales.

"We can laugh about it a little now," Cain said. "It used to be so sad. But he's with us now, and he's doing so well. We're ecstatic."

He was supposed to be dead. But his story continues to amaze.

"If ever there was a natural baseball player, it was Steve," said Cazzetta, his junior high coach almost 50 years ago. "I wish he could have accomplished more. He was slated for big things in this world. We all thought he'd go far. It's just unfortunate that he didn't.

"But he's still a legend."

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