Wick could almost feel not feeling that arm on his back, even weeks after Oly was dead. Could almost taste not tasting that cheesecake and milk they used to order as they watched a movie after games on the road. Could almost hear not hearing that wonderfully whiny little-boy voice Oly used to affect each day when Wick entered the clubhouse. "Wickyyyyyy.... Coooooome heeeeeere, Wickyyyyy...." Which usually meant that Oly had thought of something wicked for Wick to do, and off they would go into a corner, whispering and giggling, and a few hours later the pitching coach would look down into his new pair of shoes and find the rat that the Pen had caught and cooked in the Angels' bullpen. Wick was happy to face the music. Happy as a puppy to chase the stick for Oly.
Who was there for Wick when he shattered his elbow in a cement runway at Anaheim Stadium in 1990 and then ran up $28,000 worth of bar and restaurant bills in one year, drinking himself all the way to the rehab center in Cleveland? It was Oly. Who was there for Oly in Triple A ball in '89 when Patti was pregnant and he wanted someone to move in with her while he went up to the big leagues? It was Wick. Finally, when Wick listened to Oly's advice, quit skirt-chasing and married his high school sweetheart, Kim, in May '92, Oly was there as Wick's best man. Oly was Wick's conscience, said Grover, who had managed Wick in A ball, Double A, Triple A, the majors.
You don't want to hear too much about Wick's first few days after Oly died. About waiting and calling and waiting for Oly to come home that night from the Crewses' so they could all go out to dinner. About Wick rolling over and over, screaming "No!" on the floor when Oly's name Hashed on the TV screen that night, then helping Kim to the bathroom so she could throw up. About packing the things in Oly's locker into a box in an empty clubhouse six hours later, before dawn, and three straight nights when his eyes refused to close. "He was my family." Wick sobbed when it was his turn to speak at the funeral. "He taught me how to be a faithful husband, how to roll with life when things were going bad," he later said.
This is what you do with pain. You set up a locker for your dead best friend, with his nameplate and his glove and his uniform and his team jacket and his shoes and his framed photograph on a stool. Even when the team travels, you tape the nameplate over the locker next to you and set up the shrine, so no one ever forgets. You keep talking about him to the other players because they taught you in rehab never to repress your feelings. You keep walking around the clubhouse, even weeks later, with 5 x 7 photographs of Steve to send to the hundreds of well-wishers who have written, and offer them to players: "Thought you might like a picture of Oly." You get your brains beat out on the mound.
There was something almost heroic about it; Wicks's grief possessed him. Eyes started rolling in the Indian clubhouse. Guys were starting to get the creeps. Guys were trying to forget. Mourning is a private project in America, not a communal one...but then, wouldn't everyone in the world, whether he admitted it or not. want a Wick to keep him alive when he was gone?
Grover called Wick into his office. He talked about counseling, about going on the disabled list.
"No," said Wick. "Oly wouldn't want that. He'd want me to pitch."
"But Wick," said Grover, "you can't work this out on the mound."
So what are you going to do about Wick? sportswriters began asking Indian management. Eight and two-thirds innnings pitched, 15 hits allowed, three home runs. Can't send Oly's best buddy to the minors while he's in mourning, they said. It sure would look cruel.
Late afternoon, on May 7, Wick was waved into Grover's office at Chicago's Comiskey Park. Grover was brief. Barely blinked. There were others in the office. Wick had an hour and a half to catch a flight and join the Cincinnati Reds. He had been traded for a player to be named later. Best thing they could possibly do for him, Grover said.