Here's crash course in life perspective

JOHN EISENBERG

May 23, 1992|By John Eisenberg

Rene Gonzales was sitting by a window near the back of the dark, quiet bus, watching the movie.

L Watching the movie and listening to music on his headphones.

Listening to music on his headphones and doing a crossword puzzle.

Doing a crossword puzzle and, well, watching the movie.

"Yeah, three things at once," Gonzales said yesterday. "I can do that."

Then the ride started getting rough. "The first thing you felt was a kind of bumpiness," he said. "You knew it wasn't right, but you didn't think that much of it. Then it started getting rougher and rougher, and you knew it was going to be an accident. Then the bus was turning over, and you're going, 'Hey, what the hell is this?'"

It was a crash, as you may have heard, a crash in the middle of the night involving one of two buses bringing the California Angels from New York to Baltimore for their weekend series with the Orioles. A crash on the New Jersey Turnpike, of all places.

Gonzales was telling his story last night on the field at Camden Yards during batting practice before the Angels' first game back. The evening was warm and blue and baseball as usual. Fans stood in the front row clamoring for autographs. Music rocked the loudspeakers. A ballgame beckoned and there wasn't a thing wrong with the world. But wait, there was.

"It's going to feel different for a while, doing this, playing ball," said Gonzales, a former Oriole who played second for the Angels last night. "I don't think I can explain it. But you can't just jump from that (crash) to this (game) and not feel strange, almost out of place. It's just you find yourself looking at everything (x differently."

That is what happens when you are riding along in the dark and suddenly your teammate across the aisle is dropping into your arms, and you're just hugging each other, holding on, wondering if there's going to be a big boom at the end.

"The bus was just totally messed up, see," Gonzales said. "We got out of it and stood there and looked at all the ground we covered on our side, and looked at all the woods we took out, and looked at the bus all crumpled up, and we all went, like, 'Ohhhhh, man.'

"It's the old thing, you know, you think it's never going to happen to you. Especially ballplayers. Major-leaguers just take so much for granted. Then this cop pulled up and he said he'd been to hundreds of crash scenes like this one and there was always someone dead. Always. This cop said it was an absolute miracle no one died."

A miracle because one tree kept the bus from bouncing down an embankment. One tree and, well, you don't want to think about what might have happened. As it was, only manager Buck Rodgers, first baseman Alvin Davis and backup infielder Bobby Rose were injured badly enough to miss last night's game. Mostly, everyone just ached.

"It's weird, I have these little sore spots all over my head," Gonzales said. "It feels like I was in a big fight in a bar."

But this being baseball, which never flinches, all the Angels could do was write down the miracle on their scorecard, get some sleep and keep going. Tell their stories, compare their bruises, put on their caps and play the next game.

"When other people have serious accidents, they get to go home and lie in bed," backup catcher Ron Tingley said. "We go back out and do our jobs in front of 40,000 people. I'm not complaining, but it seems a little strange right now."

How strange? You couldn't help wondering last night. The Angels already have stared down a couple of biggies this year. Pitcher Matt Keough needed brain surgery after being smacked in the head by a foul ball during a spring training game. Batting coach Deron Johnson died of cancer. Now this.

Now: distracted concentration, bruises all over the clubhouse and no manager for two months -- he tore up his knee and elbow and needs surgery. Any team is a delicate creation that can be discombobulated by the smallest nick. Here are a dozen nicks acquired in one moment in the middle of the night.

"I don't see how it can't affect us," Tingley said. "We're all still thinking about it. We've been sitting around the hotel talking about it for two days. We'll just have to go on with it sitting there in the back of our minds."

They played on last night and lost to the Orioles, 5-3, but it was just another game, eight hits for each team, a couple of big catches. You could say the Angels were listless most of the night, but who really knows?

"No matter what happens, win or lose, it's going to be analyzed in terms of the crash," Tingley said. "I'm not sure it's going to be relevant that way. I just know it's something none of us will ever forget."

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