Friends mourn Wiggins, ravaged by AIDS at end

January 14, 1991|By Bob Nightengale | Bob Nightengale,Los Angeles Times

PASADENA, CALIF — PASADENA, Calif. -- The three sat together in pews at Calvary C.M.E. Methodist Church in Pasadena Friday during the funeral service, trying to comfort one another and erase feelings of guilt created by their friend's death.

These were three of Alan Wiggins' closest friends growing up in Pasadena, staying together from Little League to junior high to the Senior Babe Ruth League to being high school teammates.

There was Warren Hollier, a 6-foot-6 pitcher and the star of the group, who eventually earned a baseball scholarship to Oral Roberts. There was Lyle Breckenridge, the shortstop, who went to California. There was Wayne Stone, the rightfielder, who also wound up at Oral Roberts.

And there Wiggins, who, a doctor told the Los Angeles Times Saturday, died of complications caused by AIDS.

The four friends were all close, all sharing the same dream. They were inseparable, playing ball at Brookside Park across from the Rose Bowl in the mornings. Their diamond was nothing more than a sandlot. They would rake an infield, build a pitching mound, and while playing the field, pulled their hats on tightly to prevent them from falling into the stickers.

"We'd sit around and talk about pro ball, what was going to happen, how we'd do," Hollier said. "Alan and I were best friends. Neither of us had a dad, or much money, and we figured sports was our way out.

"Alan probably had less than any of us, but he wasn't going to let that stop him. I remember once when he didn't have any shoes to wear, so he wore these white Converse high-tops, and he didn't care who laughed at him."

What did matter was that Wiggins could out-run anyone in his bare feet. He knew he was going to play ball. He just knew it. All you had to do was ask him.

"Alan knew he had superior talent," Stone said. "I remember one day I was working, and he said to me, 'You know something, I'll never have to work a day in my life,' and he kind of laughed.

"You know something, he never did."

Said Wiggins' brother Donald: "I remember those guys would actually sit around and practice signing autographs. That's why when you look at his signature, it's so good. He had been practicing."

When Wiggins made it to the big leagues with the Padres to stay in 1982, the four of them would get together every time Wiggins came into town. Each of the four players was drafted, but with the exception of Wiggins, none ever advanced past Double A. He was living out all of their fantasies.

"When we saw him, we'd always pick his brain, wanting to know how he made it," Stone said. "He'd tell us we all could make it, you know, making us feel good."

But the visits became more infrequent each year, and when he was released by the Orioles after the 1987 season, the gang never again got together, or even talked by telephone.

They never had a chance to say goodbye.

Wiggins, 32, died Jan. 6 of complications caused by AIDS, acquired immune deficiency syndrome, according to one of his doctors. Wiggins had been suffering from complications caused by AIDS for three years, said the doctor, who declined to be identified.

Wiggins' family and the staff at Los Angeles' Cedars-Sinai Hospital decline to publicly acknowledge the cause of death, but one family member, and several friends of Wiggins, confirmed that Wiggins died from complications caused by AIDS.

"He has had some health problems for some time, he knew what was happening," said Dr. James McGee, Wiggins' psychiatrist in Baltimore. "The last few times I talked to him, about four months ago, were not fun, happy conversations. He was not in good shape, and wasn't optimistic.

"Things were not going well for him."

Wiggins, who had been hospitalized on several occasions, was admitted into the emergency room at Cedars-Sinai at 3:20 a.m. EST Nov. 29. The admissions report said Wiggins was "coughing, had breathing difficulty, and a clear indication of pneumonia."

He drifted in and out of consciousness during his stay, and 37 days later, he was dead.

"It's so tough when you see someone going through the pain he was going through," said Ronald Wiggins, Alan's 35-year-old brother, "and not being able to do anything about it. We always hung onto that hope. We kept praying God would perform a miracle.

"We held out hope right to the end."

The man whose athletic body had enabled him to be the catalyst behind the Padres' 1984 National League championship team weighed less than 75 pounds at the time of death.

"I feel like basically he died alone," Hollier said. "We all cared about him greatly, but I think he felt embarrassed about what happened, and he shut us out. I mean as close as we were, none of us even knew he was sick. Can you believe it?

"I've shed a lot of tears over this, and I don't want to place blame on myself or Lyle or Wayne, but we feel bad because we were not persistent enough. We used to say all the time, we need to go down there [to San Diego], grab the brother, pull him aside, and straighten him out. But we lost contact.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.