By Paul Sullivan
Tribune Staff Writer
September 08, 1999
Just like Sammy Sosa, Cincinnati reliever Stan Belinda goes from city to city answering the same questions over and over again.
It gets tiring and repetitive at times, but Belinda doesn't mind spending time with the media.
He believes his words can change people's perceptions of a disease about which many have heard, but that few understand. If enough people pay close attention, he is certain a cure can be found.
After Belinda went on the disabled list for the second time in August 1998 with inflammation of his spinal cord, he was sent to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., for further tests. Dr. John Noseworthy's examination concluded Belinda was suffering from the early stages of multiple sclerosis, a progressive muscular disorder caused by a defect in one or more genes that control muscle function. (This journalist has not done his homework - MS is affects nerves not muscles - PJ)
"I'm trying to create awareness that you can lead a normal life with MS," Belinda said Tuesday at Wrigley Field. "It's not easy, but there is support out there if you need it, and if you or your family are not sure you can handle it. I'm just trying to do whatever I can do to get some exposure. Anything. To treat it, to cure it, it has to be recognized first. Research is not a high priority. You hear all about research for AIDS, cancer, ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease), muscular dystrophy . . . no one knows much about MS."
Multiple sclerosis is characterized as a gradual, irreversible wasting of the skeletal muscle. (More errors - PJ) Because his disease was discovered in its early stages, Belinda was able to receive aggressive treatment and was told he could resume his career last spring.
Just looking at Belinda or speaking with him, one wouldn't suspect he had a serious disease. That's the mystery of MS.
"Your body is totally eating your mind underneath," he said. "It causes the nerves to send the wrong signals to the brain. It's weird. Being successful in your baseball career and then something like this happens . . . 'You'd think it couldn't go after him because he's a big athlete.' But they don't know what causes it."
Belinda, 33, began the season on the disabled list and wasn't activated until June 25. Since then, he's 2-1 with a 5.09 earned-run average, with 36 strikeouts in 35 1/3 innings. One of the more reliable set-up men in baseball for much of his career, Belinda has been lost in the shuffle in the Reds' bullpen picture. Cincinnati's pen leads the major leagues with a 3.18 ERA, with young pitchers such as Scott Williamson and Scott Sullivan paving the way.
Belinda sometimes wonders if the perception of his disease is hurting his career. He described his recent duties as "mop-up man," and said he isn't sure whether the disease has played into manager Jack McKeon's decision to use him in a less important role.
"Sometimes I feel like a rookie who's trying to break into the league instead of a 10-year veteran who has done it before," he said. "But we're trying to win and (McKeon) has to ride the hot hand. Our guys are doing great. I want to help the team and I talk to (Williamson) a lot about the mental side of closing. I've been through the fire, through the wars, and I know what to expect."
As much as he wants to give exposure to MS, Belinda doesn't want to be known solely as "the pitcher with multiple sclerosis." Until the disease, he probably was known best as the pitcher who gave up the hit to Atlanta's Francisco Cabrera in the decisive game of the 1992 National League Championship Series.
"I'm known for two bad things," Belinda said with a hint of a smile. "One pitch and (multiple sclerosis)."
But Belinda may be wrong. By the time his career is over, he may be
remembered for one more thing--his courage.