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"That's when the arthritis kicks in," Oliver said. "My back."
The rain gave Oliver and Rhodes time to reflect, as did the sight of their teammate Nelson Cruz soft-tossing with his little boy in the florescent twilight of the visitors' clubhouse. Oliver thinks more than ever of sunny Texas golf courses, and of his ongoing swing transition ("The transition is: I need to fix it"), and of his sons, who are now 10 and eight and rambunctious, and could use a father who no longer goes on 10-day road trips.
Rhodes passed out cigars in the Mariners' clubhouse when his wife, Leah, gave birth to his third child and only son, Jordan, in April 2003. "I was a little sad on the mound," he said after his first game back with the team. "It's tough when your kid is at home. I'm going to try to get some rest tonight, but I'll probably be up all night playing with him."
Two summers later Jordan was almost old enough to come to the ballpark with his father, who was an Indian at the time. It was then that doctors found a tumor growing on Jordan's spine. It is not Rhodes's way to share such things, and he informed only his manager, Eric Wedge, and the Cleveland front office. "I didn't want it to get out there," he says.
For the next three years, as Rhodes moved from the Indians to the Phillies to the Mariners to the Marlins, with Tommy John surgery in between, Jordan's cancer spread slowly and inexorably. By the 2008 off-season it had reached his brain. He died that December, at the age of five.
Most of Rhodes's teammates knew nothing of what had happened until last summer, when reporters began asking what it was he always traced with his finger in the mound's dirt. The initials j.r., he explained, were for his son, who died of an illness. He didn't say much more. "I can be pissed off or I can be happy or I can just be quiet," he says. "Once I get quiet, he's on my mind."
As Oliver will soon retire for his family, Rhodes will not, if he can help it, for his family: for his wife, and for his daughters, ages 17 and 10, and, most of all, for Jordan. "He is why I'm still playing," he says. "He only saw me pitch a couple of times. I could never bring him to the field with me when he was sick. I'd love him to come in the clubhouse, run around, do like all the other little boys do. But he's still here. He's still here with me."
If he pitches until he is 47, which would make him one year older than Orosco was when he retired, Rhodes will need to average 58 appearances a season to break his erstwhile teammate's record. Rhodes might be able to do it. With each pitch he delivers, he will stride to the plate with his right leg. On his right calf there is a tattoo of an angel's wings.
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