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A Fight Against Pain And Doubt
Jill Lieber
July 29, 1985
After three operations and two lost years, Dennis Leonard is still trying valiantly to get back on the mound
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July 29, 1985

A Fight Against Pain And Doubt

After three operations and two lost years, Dennis Leonard is still trying valiantly to get back on the mound

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Each time the patient came home, she waited on him. "I had to help balance him so he could go to the toilet," she says. "I had to wrap his leg in garbage bags to keep the splints dry and then fight to get him into the shower. Every night, he'd roll into bed, and I'd swing the leg over onto two pillows."

She became a chauffeur. Last summer, she bought a van so she could haul Dennis around. She drove him to their sons' Little League games. "I'd set up a chaise longue behind home plate and put a cooler of beer next to him," she says.

She played nurse. "I had to learn to give him IVs at home," she says. "I sterilized everything a million times. So who's on the advisory board of the [Kansas City] Home Medical Support Services? Dennis—as a consumer!"

She pampered his beloved hunting dog, Skipper. The Brittany spaniel was diagnosed last summer as having arthritis. "Dennis couldn't walk; the dog couldn't walk," Audrey says. "I was carrying them both. I felt like a lunatic."

And even though she didn't want to, there were times she let Dennis go it alone. "Sometimes, he got so quiet," Audrey says. "I knew he was thinking about baseball. I knew he had to get out, develop other relationships and interests." She insisted he go pheasant hunting with his friends, crutches and all.

This spring, Audrey encouraged Dennis to work with the Blue Springs Little League. Dennis Jr. plays first base for Lacy's Homes; Dennis Sr. is pitching coach. Ryan plays third base for Ark Marine, Inc.; Dad is the first-base coach. Both sons wear Dennis's No. 22. The family is at the American Legion fields four nights a week and all day Saturday.

A couple of weeks ago, on Blue Springs Night at Royals Stadium, Leonard surprised the Little Leaguers and put on his uniform. When he popped out of the bullpen, everybody clapped. Except for Ryan. "Hey, Dad," he yelled. "I didn't know you still had a uniform."

"When he was playing, Dennis never knew what he was missing at home," Audrey says. "He was never close to Dennis Jr.; he never got to see him grow up. When he was laid up, Ryan would read to him on the couch. If something good has come out of all of this, it's that as a family we're closer than ever."

She can laugh now at the craziness of the past two years. "At first," she says, "I couldn't handle it. I had to keep the house. I had to keep the pool. I had to keep the yard. I had to keep the kids. And I had to keep him. By 10:30 at night, I was exhausted. At times, I wished it had happened to me.

"There were days he was the one who got me through it. I'd cry, and he'd calm me down. To me, he was killing himself. He'd stop and explain every exercise to me. I had never understood why guys fought so hard to get back after being injured. Now, I do. I don't know what I would have done to walk, but I could never have done this."

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