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Howard's heavy heart


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Howard's heavy heart

 

By Tom D'Angelo, Palm Beach Post Staff Writer

Monday, April 5, 2004

 

 

 

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. -- Pitcher Ben Howard never will forget that day two years ago when baseball became secondary. Howard remembers that was the day he searched the Arizona desert brush before finding teammate Mike Darr lying dead.

 

"It's something I never will forget," said Howard, who was acquired by the Marlins on Saturday and sent to Class AAA Albuquerque. "You have to go on. You have to do a job, that's what I'm being paid to do. But it was tough to do. I got through it eventually. I don't think I'll ever get over it."

 

Howard, 25, has pitched parts of the past two seasons for the Padres but with a heavy heart. On Feb. 15, 2002, Howard was the lone survivor of a car crash that killed Darr, one of the team's top outfielders, and Duane Johnson, a childhood friend of Darr's.

 

Howard, the only one wearing a seat belt in the sports utility vehicle, was asked Sunday whether he wonders why he was the lucky one.

 

"I think about that all the time,'' he said. "You don't know. It's just one of those things. A point I try to get across now is wear your seat belt. It's not that hard to do, it takes two seconds."

 

Darr veered into a median of dirt and gravel while driving northwest of Phoenix. He then over-corrected, returning to the freeway at a sharp angle before going into a roll.

 

Darr died of "severe blunt force'' to the left side of his head. Darr, 25, and Johnson, 23, the front-seat passenger, were thrown from the vehicle.

 

It was learned that Darr was legally intoxicated. He had a blood alcohol level of 0.11, which is 0.03 above Arizona's legal limit. Howard told police that all three men consumed "a couple of beers'' with dinner.

 

Howard, who climbed out of the back seat uninjured, told police he wasn't sure how Darr lost control of the vehicle. He said he "looked and looked and looked" for Darr after climbing out of the car. He found him in the desert brush.

 

"Sometimes I feel like he's looking down on me and helping me out," Howard said Sunday. When asked if he feels as if he's playing his career for Darr and Johnson, Howard said, "I think in a sense you could say that."

 

Howard started the 2002 season with the Padres in Class AAA but was called up in April. He was 0-1 with a 9.28 ERA in three games before returning to the minors. Howard had six starts last season for the Padres as a late-season recall. He was 1-3 with a 3.63 ERA.

 

"Just being around the guys helped the most," he said. "Being with them I kind of got my mind off of it and being around the field kind of helped me out the most."

 

Howard, a right-hander, will pitch out of the Isotopes' bullpen. He has been told by Marlins pitching coach Wayne Rosenthal the middle relief spots remain wide open. Since Nate Bump, Tommy Phelps, Matt Perisho and Justin Wayne learned they would comprise the middle relievers, they have allowed 19 runs in 6 1/3 innings in games against the Mets on Saturday and Isotopes on Sunday.

 

"I've been a starter my whole career (but) if that's the thing that will get me there the quickest, I'm all for it," Howard said. "(Rosenthal) said if everything works out and I throw the ball well, don't be surprised if I get a call."

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Since Nate Bump, Tommy Phelps, Matt Perisho and Justin Wayne learned they would comprise the middle relievers, they have allowed 19 runs in 6 1/3 innings in games against the Mets on Saturday and Isotopes on Sunday

 

Holy Shizzle, they better pick it up again when the regular season starts.

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