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Posted at 12:00 PM ET, 03/22/2011

Chad Cordero, SIDS and baseball

Hello. I’m going to rent this space from Kilgore for just a tad.

Some of you have probably read our story this morning on former Nationals closer Chad Cordero, who lost his baby daughter Tehya to sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) in December. Chad, his wife Jamie, their 22-month-old daughter Riley and the entire Cordero family – Chad has two brothers, a sister and an older half-brother – are obviously struggling every single day with Tehya’s loss, and they appreciate anyone who helps keeps her memory alive.


(Dirk Shadd - FOR THE WASHINGTON POST)
In writing a story like this, there are so many details that get left out, unfortunately. When I went to visit the Corderos in Palm Harbor, Fla. – not far from Dunedin, where Chad is trying to win a job with the Toronto Blue Jays – it seemed clear that they wanted to talk about what they’re dealing with, difficult as that might be, not only because it helps them process it all, but because it could bring some publicity for SIDS, which is not widely understood and not widely discussed.

The story in today’s Post left out lots of the details about SIDS, which, according to the American SIDS Institute, affects about 1 in 2,000 live births.

“Part of the definition is that the death remains unexplained, even after every test is performed, including an autopsy,” Dr. Betty McEntire, the executive director of the American SIDS Institute, told me by phone. “We just don’t know.”

Since Tehya’s death, the Corderos have worked with a support group in Orange County, Calif., and met parents who, like them, lost children to SIDS.

“You just don’t hear about it,” Jamie Cordero said. “It’s not … I don’t know. You know in the media, how they want to shock you or whatever? I think it would catch people, but for some reason it doesn’t. We talked to the doctors, and it’s not like something like a heart defect, something that people think you could fix and save the baby or make a difference in their life.”

McEntire said research on SIDS is not conclusive, but there seem to be three factors, what researchers call the “triple-risk model.” Researchers believe that babies who succumb to SIDS have something subtly wrong, likely from birth, and likely having to do with the brain. The defect, though, doesn’t lead directly to death, researchers believe. Rather, it has to come together with something else.

“They seem to be of a vulnerable age, usually less than six months but up to a year, and are born with this subtle defect,” McEntire said. “And then something else happens. Maybe the baby’s a little sick – not sick enough that anyone would think something is really wrong. Maybe it gets too hot. … This is just a theory. We don’t know this.”

The Corderos would like to use their tragedy to help raise awareness. Chad said he’d like to start a foundation, and they may organize a golf tournament and/or a bowling tournament in the offseason. Other people have already shown their support. The Lerner family, unbeknownst to Chad and Jamie, made a donation in Tehya’s name to the American SIDS Institute, a gesture for which the Corderos were extremely grateful.

“We’re going to do whatever we can to raise money,” Chad said.

There is, too, the matter of baseball, which Cordero made clear to me he still wants to play. These stories of human loss and sports are difficult, and sometimes, I think, people jump to conclusions that the athletes involved automatically want to compete because of their loss. That’s not, necessarily, always the case. But Cordero brought up the subject: He will use Tehya as motivation and, as he said in the piece, he will play for her.

Where he plays, and how he does, remains to be seen. He is now more than two years removed from the surgery to repair a torn labrum in his right shoulder, the most devastating injury a pitcher can endure. Earlier this spring, he had inflammation in the shoulder and was shut down for 10 days – worrying to both Jamie and Chad, until Toronto doctors told him it was likely just scar tissue breaking up, a typical occurrence at about this point after the surgery.

Last year, Cordero worked his way back to the majors – his first appearance in the bigs since he last threw for the Nationals on April 29, 2008 – with Seattle. His brief, nine-appearance stint for the Mariners resulted in a 6.52 ERA with six strikeouts and five walks in 9-2/3 innings. When the Mariners tried to send him back to Class AAA Tacoma, Cordero – as was his right by the terms of his contract – elected free agency instead. He signed with the Mets (and then-New York GM Omar Minaya, who oversaw the Montreal Expos when they drafted Cordero in 2003) and pitched well for Class AAA Buffalo, striking out 14 and walking only five in 16 innings over 17 appearances in which he had an ERA of just 1.69.

“My velocity came back last August,” Cordero said. “I hit like 91 against Syracuse, and I’m happy with 88-89.”

Tehya’s death instantly stopped Cordero’s offseason workouts, so he is still building arm strength, and the Blue Jays have indicated that he’ll start the season with Class AAA Las Vegas. That, even, could be a blessing, because it’s only a three-hour drive to the Corderos’ home in Huntington Beach, Calif., where Tehya is buried.

“If I needed to go home – go to the cemetery, go see my family – I can just hop in the car and get home, even after a game,” Cordero said. “Either way, it’s going to work out.”

Tuesday, Cordero is scheduled to throw in a Grapefruit League game for the first time.

“He looks good,” his father, Edward, told me. “Pounding the strike zone. He knows what he needs to do.”

From there, the Corderos will see – both in baseball and in their lives.

By  |  12:00 PM ET, 03/22/2011

 
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