2004 NEWS

2004 News > 8/12/04

GLAVINE'S CRASH COURSE

By Mike Lupica, NY Daily News

NEW YORK -- He spends a real good day in Atlanta on Monday. Tom Glavine takes his 5-year-old son to his first day of kindergarten, gets to see an older boy's football practice later. On Tuesday he gets up and takes the 5-year-old to his second day of kindergarten and then goes to the airport for the flight back to New York.

"Monday isn't just a good day, it's actually a great day," Glavine is saying last night. "Now I'm back in New York and I'm taking - what? - a five-minute cab to Shea and I know when I get there I start thinking about my start on Wednesday."

He gets into the cab in front of the AirTran terminal and he is in that cab less than a minute when it is on the 94th St. overpass of the Grand Central. Glavine says he is going through his mental checklist all at once. He has his travel bag with him, that is the first thing. He is about to reach into the bag for his cell phone, wanting to tell his wife he had landed safely and is on his way to Shea.

At the same time he is reminding himself to fasten his seatbelt.

"I never got to the seatbelt," he says.

In the backseat of the cab, Tuesday afternoon, he hears the driver of the cab, George Kovalonoks, shout something. Glavine doesn't understand what the driver is saying. "I just know it's not good," he says. At this point Glavine looks up to see the SUV driven by a man named John Struble from New Jersey about to broadside them on the driver's side of the cab, which is also Tom Glavine's side.

"You think what anybody would think," Glavine says. "'Oh my God.' It was clear we were going to get hit and hit hard."

In his own car now on Tuesday night, on his way back to Connecticut with his wife driving, Glavine says, "The moment seems to last much longer than you know it really can. You just have time to brace yourself, not knowing what's about to happen, and hope for the best."

The cab takes the hit, comes to a stop. Glavine says he knows it couldn't have taken more than a few seconds for the cab to come to a stop. But this is another moment that lasts longer, as if in slow motion.

"At this point, I opened my eyes," Glavine says. "Which I'm aware is a good thing."

He looks down at his left hand, his pitching hand, and sees a tooth in it, what turns out to be one of the two front teeth he loses in the accident. Last night he says, "I feel like what one of the hockey players looked like when I was watching them as a kid." The tooth is in his hand and there is blood all over him and the backseat.

Only when a policeman arrives on the scene does Glavine know that he is not just bleeding from his mouth, but from a gash in his chin. A day later, after his trip to NYU Medical Center and an examination in the trauma unit there and by an oral surgeon, after an examination by the Mets doctors at Shea last night, Glavine is able to laugh a little bit about getting rocked a few minutes from Shea, on the day before he was supposed to pitch.

"New York," he says, "has hit me hard in more ways than one."

He pauses and says, "But you stay the course." You ask him if he thinks about leaving now that he is 17-24 with the Mets, now that he is 8-10 during a season in which his earned-run average is under three runs a game and Glavine, most emphatically, says, "No."

He is 38 and he is 41 wins short of 300, and this is the time when he watches his old sidekick from the Braves, Greg Maddux, get to 300 pitching for the Cubs. Glavine still believes he can make 300. He talks about going into the last two years of his Mets contract with, say, 35 wins to go and, in his mind, still having a great chance.

"If I can't get there," he says, "I'll worry about that when it happens. If it happens."

Then he says, "Listen, everybody has things in their lives, in their careers, that test them. I've certainly been tested here. It's been a mental grind for me since I've been here. And I can't tell you it's been what I anticipated. But my mindset remains the same: Things are going to get better here. I'm going to help make them better. And, hopefully, I'll be able to laugh about a lot of what's happened here already." Another pause. "Maybe even what happened yesterday. That's the way I approach things, the way I'm made. Things that happen to you shape you. I really believe that. And things like what happened to me yesterday certainly help me keep everything that happens in baseball in perspective. Because I'm smart enough to know things could have been worse."

For now, he expects to resume pitching when the Mets are in San Francisco the weekend after this. It means he did not just lose a couple of teeth leaving LaGuardia, he got banged around pretty good. He says last night that both his knees hurt and his right shoulder and his right rib cage.

"I'd be lying to you if I didn't think to myself, sitting in the backseat of that cab right after we got hit, 'What else can happen to me here?'" Glavine says.

Then he manages another laugh. He pitched 16 seasons in Atlanta. He has made only 56 starts for the Mets. He was supposed to make No. 57 last night. There have been only a handful of times this season when the National League has roughed him up. You have to say New York has hit him much harder.