OF THE EXAMINER STAFF
July 24, 1999
But pitcher admits he looks at life differently now City to city, ballpark to ballpark, Stan Belinda has been hearing variations on the same question, all season long: Does having multiple sclerosis "put things in perspective" ?
Standing beside his locker in the visiting clubhouse at Candlestick before Friday night's game, Belinda smiled a little and said, "Unfortunately, for me, it does. I have a different view of everything now, just like anyone who has come down with a disease, with cancer or anything else . . . I don't let little things bother me, anymore. You don't dwell on it if doesn't have to do with the way you really feel, or the way you're living your life."
In May of last year Cincinnati reliever Belinda, 32, began experiencing "a tightening in my leg . . . (that) had this funny sensation, a tingling." He went on the disabled list with inflammation of the spine Aug. 10 and within two weeks was diagnosed with MS. "It was a hard time, no question," he said. "But you can't dwell on it. You can't let it eat you up. You just go every day, the best you can."
Belinda, marking his 10th year in the big leagues, came back to the Reds in the spring, went briefly on the disabled list with biceps tendinitis, and returned to the bullpen in June, a perfect inning on June 26 marking his first appearance since Aug. 9, 1998. He is the first major-leaguer to ever play the game after being diagnosed with MS - the Phillies' Jack Brittan left after a two-year career in 1950-51 before finding out he had the disease.
Belinda hasn't seen much action this season. Before Friday, he had pitched seven innings in seven appearances for an 0-1 record and a 7.71 earned-run average, allowing seven hits and four walks. But Friday night he was called on in the second inning, after the Giants took a 3-0 lead, and pitched a clean 2-3/4 innings, with one walk and one strikeout, leaving after the Reds had tied it up, 3-3. His strikeout total stands at seven, earning $7,000 for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, which gets $1,000 per Belinda strikeout from Teva Marion Partners.
Neither Belinda nor his teammates make a big thing out of his illness, or his comeback after being diagnosed. Right-hander Brett Tomko said, "It's never, ever really brought up, by anybody. He's never made anything of it. He knows we're behind him, no matter what."
Tomko, 25, came to the Reds in '97, when Belinda was one of the bullpen honchos. "He's intense, real intense. I remember when he was our go-to guy, him and Jeff Shaw, and I'd like to see that again - calling on him to be our go-to guy, the guy to shut 'em down."
Reds manager Jack McKeon said, "Stan's a gamer. The courage he shows you out there is something, and the last two, three games he's really looked good. He's gettin' there."
Belinda, a native of Pennsylvania who was drafted in the 10th round in 1986 by the Pirates, signed as a free agent with the Reds at the end of '96, giving the team 160 innings over two years, with a 3.53 ERA in 124 games. Pitching for the Pirates, Royals, Red Sox and Reds, Belinda has posted a 37-34 record with a 3.79 ERA and 76 saves over 508 games.
The right-hander doesn't see himself slowing down any time soon. He'd liked to see more playing time, said Belinda, but playing time "is something that's out of your control." And if the MS diagnosis has taught Belinda anything, it's that you don't worry about things out of your control. Like most of the 350,000 Americans who have MS, Belinda keeps the disease under control with treatments, including daily injections of Copaxone.
His height and weight, 6-feet-3 and 215 pounds, have held steady since that first diagnosis, and Belinda sees no reason why he can't stay in the game as long as they keep handing him the ball.
Belinda's wife, Lori, his 7- year-old daughter, Maura, and 4-year-old son, Wyatt, have given him a boost through the hardest times, and the pleasure of the game has never left him. "That burst of adrenaline when you take the mound, it's the same feeling I've always had," he said. "It's fun, and that's the way it should be. It all comes down to being fun."
Even when he's not on the mound, said Belinda, he gets pleasure out of showing younger pitchers the tricks of the trade. "It's the same feeling you get as a teacher, you know - passing something on, showing someone how to cut a corner, seeing it another way," he said. "It gives me a real good feeling."
Belinda shrugged off more talk of MS, saying, "You know, it's really about being a part of a team trying to win a championship, wanting to be a part of that more than anything else." Earlier he had said, "When I signed to play ball at the age of 19, I said I wanted to play until they took the uniform off my back, and I don't see any reason for that to change."
Asked if he sees himself heading for the mound, hitching up his pants,
when he's 42, Belinda smiled and said, "Hey, that's pretty far along, that's
10 years from now." Then he picked up his glove and walked away with a
"Why not?" grin on his face.