Bonding With Baseball

March 28, 2003

By Paul Coro
The Arizona Republic

Dennis Wyrick first wrapped himself in the security blanket of baseball when he was 11.

His father, Dennis Sr., had just taken him into his own home for the first time but was losing his house as he struggled with personal problems. He left Wyrick with his Little League baseball coach, Frank Aguirre, and his family at their Azusa, Calif., home, pledging he would soon return for young Dennis.

He never did. After living with his grandmother in east Los Angeles until he was 10 because his mother vanished after his birth, Wyrick has spent the past 10 years with the Aguirres acting as his guardians and feeling like parents.

When Wyrick and No. 3 Arizona State finish the series opener with Southern California tonight at Dedeaux Field, Wyrick's father will be there as usual, acting as if their relationship is normal. He never has visited Tempe, as the Aguirres do frequently, but is a fixture for ASU games at USC or UCLA. When their awkward talk is done, Wyrick will go home with the Aguirres.

'His dad really hurt him bad,' said Mary Ann Aguirre, who considers Wyrick as much her own child as her son Frank Jr., 22, and daughter Adrienne, 21. 'The way I see it, his dad lost out on so much.'

The Aguirres gave him structure and love and shared a passion for baseball. The sport again saved Wyrick last year, when his world began spiraling again.

Wyrick struggled academically to the point that he had to pass a class over the winter break to remain eligible. Afforded help as an ASU athlete, he underwent tests to study his academic problems. It was determined that he has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, usually diagnosed in preteens. The afflicted have trouble focusing, remembering and organizing.

With medication, Wyrick is on track to graduate this summer in justice studies if he is not playing pro ball, a possibility now that he is hitting .418.

Getting to this point has been an ongoing struggle. Wyrick had earned coach Pat Murphy's affection for his perseverance, but he found his way into the doghouse last year. Wyrick and two ex-teammates were suspended for the remainder of the season after violating team rules on an April trip to Notre Dame.

'It changed my life,' Wyrick said of the suspension. 'My life's been good and bad, but baseball was always there. When it was taken away from me for a bad situation, it woke me up and gave me a new perspective for how to go about things. I was embarrassed for how I treated him (Murphy) and the team. I hurt my teammates, maybe the outcome of the season and lost his trust. That hurt. I let somebody down who believed in me.'

Wyrick lost 25 pounds from the cumbersome 250-pound frame that once drew a football scholarship offer from Texas A&M. He had to adhere to eight tenets of responsibility to earn reinstatement. He did so and entered the season embracing what figured to be a limited role. On days off, Wyrick's dugout spot was as close to home plate as he could get.

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