Beasley given a lot to handle


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So you think Pirates manager John Russell has had a tough couple of weeks? Saying goodbye to quality veterans Adam LaRoche, Jack Wilson, Freddy Sanchez and John Grabow? Watching what's left of his ballclub, clearly now the worst team in baseball? Watching it lose an eighth consecutive game yesterday to the St. Louis Cardinals?

You don't have a clue.

You want tough?

Russell had to tell his third-base coach, Tony Beasley, that he lost his best friend -- his father, James -- to an apparent heart attack.

"Probably the hardest thing I've had to do in my whole life," Russell was saying before a 7-3 loss yesterday.

You want tougher?

Beasley not only had to come to grips with that news July 27 as he stepped off an airplane in San Francisco, he had to deal with the unexpected death of an aunt just four days later. Dorothy Smith -- his late mother's sister -- died of an apparent heart attack on the day the family gathered to bury his father. The funeral went on as planned, but now there was another to schedule.

"The Lord's word is that He never puts more on us than we can handle," Beasley said. "I know I can get through this. But my whole family was dazed."

Russell's news about his father shook Beasley to his bones. He had left the Pirates a few days earlier to return to Bowling Green, Va., where his dad was facing serious stomach surgery. At the last moment, the doctors decided to try treating him with antibiotics and sent him home from the hospital. Beasley last visited him July 26 before leaving early the next morning to rejoin the team. He was in the air when his father passed.

"When I left him, he was fine, energetic, comfortable," Beasley said. "My niece spent the night with him. She said goodbye the next morning and went to her car to leave, but she forgot something in the house. By the time she went back in, he was gone."

James Beasley, who ran a logging business, was 69.

The next few days were difficult for Beasley, as anyone who has buried a loved one knows. He and his seven siblings had lost their mother, Arlene, to a heart attack in 1996.

"He was my hero. I told him that countless times, and I always told him I loved him. I'm thankful I have no regrets that way," Beasley said of his father.

"He had an eighth-grade education, but, in my mind, he was an absolute genius. Everything I am as a man, he taught me. He'll live on forever in me and through me."

The funeral was July 31. The family met at Beasley's father's home before heading for the church. It was there, with all of her loved ones with her, that Dorothy Smith collapsed. She was 62.

"My wife was sitting there talking with her," Beasley said. "All of a sudden, she just slumped over."

Beasley needed every bit of his faith to get through that day.

"When he called that night to tell me about his aunt," Russell said, "it was like, 'What else can happen?' "

Beasley is thankful that Russell, with backing from Pirates management, told him to take all the time he needed for his family. He spent the next eight days in Virginia.

"My aunt's kids are like brothers and sisters to me," Beasley said. "They wanted me there. I needed to be there."

The second funeral was Saturday. Beasley returned to Pittsburgh that night and was back in the third-base coaching box yesterday. He couldn't have recognized the Pirates' team on the field, not after all of the trades.

The Pirates played another fundamentally poor game, blowing a late 3-1 lead and wasting a strong pitching performance by Zach Duke. First baseman Steve Pearce couldn't turn a double play in the seventh inning, throwing the ball into left field and costing a run. Catcher Jason Jaramillo and Duke couldn't get down successful bunts after Ramon Vazquez led off the Pirates' seventh with a double.

Russell also had a bad strategy day.

In the fourth, he, presumably, had Duke try to pick off Julio Lugo at first base even though the great Albert Pujols was hitting and Lugo wasn't likely to run. Duke threw the ball away for a two-base error. Then, in the eighth, with runners on second and third, one out and the Pirates down by a run, Russell allowed reliever Jesse Chavez to pitch to Ryan Ludwick even though Yadier Molina, who had grounded into more double plays this season than all but two players in baseball, was up next. Of course, Ludwick ripped a two-run double.

That's the way it's going for a Pirates' team that has 100 losses written all over it.

Beasley will worry about that later. Yesterday, he was too thrilled to be back at the ballpark to care about much else. Just as his cousins needed him last week, he needs to be around Russell, the coaches and players. They also are his family. All reached out to him after his losses. So, too, did all of the players who were traded, including Nate McLouth.

It meant the world to Beasley.

"I've changed my perspective a bit after all of this," he said. "We gripe and moan and complain about a lot of things that don't really matter. We tend to take each other, people, our relationships for granted. Well, I've vowed not to do that anymore. I'm not going to take anything for granted. I know how fast everything can change ...

"It's like I told my son. 'All of your grandfather's earthly possessions -- his bank account and everything he owned -- they're all still here, but he's gone. That's why the most important thing he did in his life was what he did through Christ for his family and for other people.' "

It's nice to think Tony Beasley Jr., just 14 and with a heavy heart, got the point.

It's nice to think the rest of us will, as well.




Ron Cook can be reached at rcook@post-gazette.com .


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