Lou's Last Pitch

Nearly anyone can make it to the major leagues. All you need is a little talent and a lot of faith.

"His father wasn't interested in baseball," Evelyn recalls. "He felt if only he'd had someone to help him and be proud of him he would have been more successful. That's why with his camps he's trying to help young boys realize their ambition. He's always loved the game and always enjoyed working with young boys. He tries to help them."

The camps are held during the summer on college campuses in New Jersey and on Long Island. Prominent major leaguers such as the Yankees' Bernie Williams and the Texas Rangers' Todd Stottlemyer swung through as little leaguers. Haneles no longer handles day-to-day operations at these camps, though he and his wife still travel north every year to help out. In the winter they help manage the Florida Professional Baseball School in Fort Pierce, which is aimed primarily at college teams from outside the state.

Evelyn signed on to the camps and the summers in minor league cities when she married Lou in 1945. She was a legal secretary working for her father when she met Haneles at a neighborhood dance. He was with a date, yet she still worked up the nerve to hand him her telephone number. "I often think about how my whole life would have been very different if I hadn't caught him just before he walked out the door," she muses. Soon they brought two children into the world. The first was a beautiful, bright girl named Ellen, born in 1946. Following her, in 1951, came a son named Jeffrey. There were complications as soon as Jeffrey was delivered.

Early in her second pregnancy, Evelyn came down with bronchitis. "The doctor told me I should probably just stay home and rest," she recollects. "But then he found out I had insurance and he told me to come down to the hospital for some tests." One of those tests was an X-ray. "I told the doctor that I was pregnant," Evelyn continues. "I said that I didn't think I should be X-rayed if I was pregnant. He told me not to worry, that it was no big deal. You know how doctors can be sometimes."

Less than 48 hours after Jeffrey's birth, doctors performed major surgery to correct a problem with the baby's digestive system. Haneles says the physical trauma from the surgery left the infant severely mentally retarded. "He was such a sweet young fella," Evelyn recalls. "He had nice-looking curly strawberry-blonde hair. He was just the sweetest boy."

Jeffrey's condition required enormous amounts of attention. Haneles did what he could to restore his son to health. "I put him on an all-carrot-juice diet to see if that would help," he says. "I had him eating good foods, but that didn't seem to work. I heard about a chiropractor in Denver who might be able to help him out, so I drove all the way out there with Jeffrey. When we got there, I saw these supposed doctors drinking and smoking and eating junk food and I knew they didn't know how to make his body healthy."

The Haneleses raised Jeffrey at home for as long as they could. In the past few years, he lived during the week at a special school 40 miles away. Every weekend his parents picked him up and drove him home. When they went on vacations, he went too. Jeffrey traveled to Missouri, to California, and to Las Vegas. At a minor league baseball game in Pompano Beach, Jeffrey sat in the stands applauding the players on the field. Like his father, he loved baseball.

"I know that if he had been a well person he would have been a ballplayer," Evelyn says. "Lou would have seen to it. That's what makes Lou so depressed. He would have worked with him and tried to help him make it to the major leagues."

Last December, while he rested at home with his parents, Jeffrey died of heart failure brought on by his condition. He was 46 years old. "He died not a year ago," Evelyn says. "It is still very fresh in my mind, so painful. We don't talk about it. Lou doesn't ever mention it and he tries not to bring it up. When I cry I go into my room so he doesn't see me."

When Evelyn mentions Jeffrey's name, Lou attempts to steer the conversation back to baseball, to the World Series or perhaps to a batter's need to plant his weight on his back foot instead of his front. His avoidance is awkward, as is his smile, which seems exaggerated and nervous. He stares at his feet.

"Are you religious?" he asks finally. "I used to be religious. I remember in college I would never swear or take the Lord's name in vain. Now I say goddamn it. So what? No God would have let our son be born that way and Evelyn knows it. And no God would have taken our son away like that. After what we've been through in the past year, I don't know how I can say that there is a God."

The greatest undiscovered pitcher in the game of baseball warms up on the sidelines of Flamingo Field in Miami Beach. The pastel pink and yellow crowns of Art Deco hotels peak over the trees ringing the park. Raul Hernandez sees only the leather mitt of his catcher, who is squatting on a patch of grass some 60 feet away. He wipes his forehead with his wrist, then digs his cleats into the turf. Winding through a motion that was more common in the major leagues twenty years ago, he rears back and kicks his left leg high. He thrusts his arms down behind his right leg, hiding the ball. The release comes in a smooth movement as he shifts his weight onto his left leg. When he lands on the leg this afternoon, though, he winces. Not good.

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