On March 1, 1993, Pokey, Tieronay and LaBresha were in Miss Barber's house. In a few days Pokey would be leaving for spring training, his third, still looking to play his first game of Double A ball. Tieronay volunteered to take Pokey's suits and shirts to the dry cleaner, which was in Columbia, a half hour's drive away. Tieronay took Pokey's 1988 black Nissan automobile, and Pokey stayed at the house with LaBresha. At around noon Tieronay was two miles out of Eastover, on a rural, two-lane road on a dry day, when she plowed into a big pine tree just off the right shoulder. She was crushed by the steering wheel. Her death was instantaneous. Nobody thinks the crash was willful. Tieronay LaShonda Duckett, 19, mother, acolyte of the St. Phillip A.M.E. Church, 1992 graduate of Lower Richland High, member of its heralded girls' basketball team, fianc�e to Calvin Reese Jr., was buried five days later. At the end of the day, other mourners, his father among them, had to pull Pokey away from the burial site. Pokey was wailing, "I can't leave her here." People who had known Pokey all his life said they had never seen him cry before.
Pokey calls LaBresha, now seven, about once a week. He also sends checks to Miss Barber from time to time. (Pokey has a one-year contract worth $1.9 million.) His little girl is a cutie-pie, exceedingly polite, a whiz on her computer. She sees his at bats every so often. She likes seeing her father, even if it's only on TV. The fact that he's a major leaguer means little to her.
You and Miss Barber and LaBresha head over to Tieronay's grave. LaBresha recites the words on her mother's tombstone in the sweet, high-pitched, halting voice of a child new to reading: "In God's care. A loving mother. Tieronay L. Duckett. December 10, 1973. March 1, 1993."
On the way back to the house you ask Miss Barber about Pokey, about what kind of father he is. "He's a good father, when he's around," Miss Barber says. You ask Miss Barber if she knows Slick. She smiles at the mention of the name. "Everybody knows Calvin Sr.," Miss Barber says. "Just nobody knows where he is." Christy Jones lives in Indianapolis with her grandmother, with her daughter from a relationship before the one with Pokey and with McKayla, her daughter with Pokey. She and Pokey met in the summer of '96, when Pokey was playing on the Reds' Triple A team in Indianapolis. Christy's stepfather, Skeeter Barnes, played for the Reds in the '80s and for Indianapolis before that. In '97 Christy became pregnant with McKayla. "I wasn't going to have McKayla, but Pokey said, 'If you have the baby, I'll be there for you,' " she says. McKayla was born on Oct. 24, 1997. Pokey didn't make it to Indianapolis until a week after McKayla was born.
For a while, during the 1998 season, when Pokey was with the Reds in Cincinnati and making $220,000, Christy and Pokey were engaged, but Pokey broke it off. He told her he didn't have enough money to get married. He told her he didn't love her. Christy says Pokey had relationships with other women while they were together. Now, by court order, Pokey pays Christy $1,469 a month for child support.
"When we started going out, he was just a fun person to be around," Christy says. "He can do sweet things. Even now. I heard he said 'Happy Mother's Day' to me on TV. But basically I see him as very selfish. To McKayla he's not a dad at all. He calls maybe once a month. He's come here to see her twice in the past year. My dad, Skeeter, works as a coach in the Detroit Tigers' organization. He told Pokey at spring training, 'You better do the right thing by my daughter.' But my dad told me, 'He's an athlete. You can't expect much from these guys. Their mind is somewhere else. It's on the game.' "
The Richardson family is well known to the Reese family. Years ago Slick dated a Richardson. Pokey had a baby with Rhonda Richardson. Peaches, Pokey's kid sister, knows Melanie Richardson, Rhonda's kid sister. But none of the Reeses—not Pokey, not Peaches, not their mother—can tell you Naquwan Richardson's address or any information about Yolanda Richardson, Naquwan's aunt and guardian.
You visit Melanie at her house in the community of Starlite, a working-class development outside Columbia, three miles up Bluff Road from Arthurtown. She tells you about Rhonda's death—the family says sickle-cell anemia was the cause—on March 23, 1996, and how Naquwan moved in with his grandmother and great-grandmother after Rhonda's passing. She tells you about the violent deaths of those two women, in that same house, on Dec. 23, 1997. Naquwan's grandmother, Patricia Richardson, was 41. His great-grandmother, Nellie Green, was 70. On that day, two days before Christmas, Patricia's live-in boyfriend, Evon Frederick, stabbed Patricia 11 times with a butcher knife, killing her. He beat Nellie to death with a bedpost; Naquwan was found in the kitchen with her body. Frederick, who'd had previous brushes with the law, is now serving two consecutive life sentences. Melanie gives you a telephone number and an address for Yolanda.
Yolanda is 28. She works with mentally ill and disabled people who live in private group homes. She prepares their meals, bathes them, talks to them. She earns $8.24 an hour. She lives on the outskirts of Columbia with her three children, plus Naquwan. The extent of the scarring from the trauma Naquwan has endured is not yet known, but he needs extra attention and thrives on it. So Yolanda has enrolled him in a special class in a public elementary school, where there are just a handful of kids.
The courts require Pokey to pay $432 a month in child support. Yolanda says it's not enough, but that's not what upsets her. Pokey has not seen seven-year-old Naquwan in about 18 months. That upsets her. "I've always liked Pokey, everybody likes Pokey," Yolanda says. "His intentions are good. But when he comes home, so many people want to see him, he loses track of time. I don't tell Naquwan when his father's here because I don't want him to be disappointed when he doesn't see him. Pokey's turning out just like his dad. Pokey couldn't depend on him. Naquwan can't depend on Pokey."