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No, this is a place for guys with giant gaps in their mouths, and in their lives. They're Aikens' only friends. Soon, they'll steal all of his baseball memorabilia. He barely knows his two little girls; that Lucia is 6 years old, or that Gretchem Nicole is 5 and just starting school. Most days, his first conscious thoughts are of sex, booze and the pipe. But he tries to keep moving. He runs up and down the stairs, inhales junk food, and takes long steams in the bathtub, anything to regenerate for the next high. He has no idea how he looks, that the 'fro once squeezed inside his batter's helmet is receding, that he weighs pounds.

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He's not even sure what day it is. But when the crack rock is too big, and his heart pounds too fast, Aikens is suddenly afraid, and reaches for some kind of hope. It isthe year he reached the lowest point of his life. This is when Willie Mays Aikens' voyage to discovery begins. When a man is lost, so thick in the soup that he can't see two inches in front of his face, there are no lighthouses.

A handful of people from various parts of Aikens' life sat him down, looked him square in his young, glazed-over eyes and told him he had to stop. There was too much to lose. He is the first -- and only -- player to hit two home runs in multiple games in the same World Series.

Today, nearly 30 years after accomplishing that feat, he works on manhole covers in the shadow of Kauffman Stadium. If he had only listened to one of the people who tried to talk sense to him, maybe he wouldn't be here, 54 years old with mud caked on his jeans and three hours to go before his shift is over. Maybe his life wouldn't be starting over at the end of middle age. No one will ever know the athlete Aikens could've been, what was already slipping away on that mid-October night in when, after he hit his fourth homer of the World Series against the Phillies in Game 4, he left the ballpark and celebrated by snorting a few lines of cocaine.

Aikens wasn't the only one doing coke.

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It was, after all, the '80s. But he had had so many warnings. An FBI agent visited the Royals, cautioning them that they were being monitored for drug activity. Hal McRae, one of the most respected players in the Kansas City clubhouse, pulled Aikens aside at least twice. The program didn't take. Shapiro was right.

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Aikens tumbled -- into jail on cocaine charges inand out of the major leagues two years later. But that didn't even bother him. More free time meant more time to do coke. The thud didn't really come until Dec. District Judge Dean Whipple on federal drug and firearms charges. The judge admonished him for his wasted chances, then blindsided him. That jolted Aikens out of his self-induced haze.

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A few months earlier, he'd been offered a plea bargain but refused to squeal on his crack buddies. The deal was five years.

Somehow, he thought, somebody would have to see it: that the sentence didn't fit the man, that Willie Mays Aikens rotting in prison until he was 60 wouldn't be good for society. Would they listen to his story? Could they see that scared, embarrassed boy standing in front of the class in a fourth-grade spelling bee, hoping the kids would stop laughing, praying he could just sit down so it would stop?

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His speech impediment just wouldn't let him get it out. Did they know that home was a two-bedroom shack with no indoor plumbing, and he shared it with his grandma and his mother, two cousins, a sister and an abusive, alcoholic stepfather? That Aikens never met his real father?

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Maybe the sympathy was muted because of the prodigious gifts he had squandered. Aikens was so much bigger than the other kids in the Bruce Hill neighborhood of Seneca, S. He made the varsity baseball team in eighth grade, could hit the ball feet by his senior year.


Eventually, when Aikens walked to the plate, opposing coaches would tell him to head on down to first base, to take his intentional walk and be satisfied with it. Surely, they'd love his good intentions. They'd like that when the Angels made him the second pick of the draft, he used his first ing bonus to buy a house for his mom. The size of his body and the softness of his speech didn't really line up well. He wasn't worldly.

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Except for baseball, there wasn't much to shape him. So was it that much of a surprise that the impressionable kid, who left mouths agape in minor league parks with his towering homers would finally break into the big leagues insee some guys doing coke and want to try it himself?

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Of course, his drug habit didn't impair him on the field, Aikens would say. At least, not at first. He hit 21 home runs in his first full season for the Angels. He batted. But as Aikens started getting in deeper, teammates started noticing bad s. He'd mutter about playing time and show up late for batting practice.

The bust, when he was arrested along with teammates Willie Wilson, Jerry Martin and Vida Blue, was supposed to be just a blip.

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Aikens didn't know it then, that he'd soon be gone from Kansas City, then fade through two seasons in Toronto. He thought -- even during his time in the Mexican League -- that he would be back. He saw millions flashing before his eyes when the Japanese League sent a representative to Mexico to woo him. He didn't know his criminal record would stand in the way and prevent him from getting a visa. With nowhere left to play, Aikens went back to Kansas City and settled onto the couch with his pipe.

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It's a tremendous feeling. There isn't anything more important than smoking a pipe. A fellow prisoner, who'd grown old staring at the walls of a prison for most of his life, once gave Aikens some advice. He said it's easier to do time if you put your mind where your body's at.

This was sage stuff, but Aikens couldn't really listen. He thanked God that he had been caught, that the shackles on his legs would ultimately free him from a drug that was controlling his life. But he never believed he deserved 20 years and, in the darkest recesses of his mind, couldn't contemplate the thought of it. He claims he was entrapped by Ginger Locke, the young undercover police officer who approached his condo in "looking for directions" and eventually, according to Aikens, asked him to cook powder cocaine into crack.

That act, under stiff federal laws enacted after Len Bias' death indramatically increased his jail time. No, he couldn't put his mind there, in the Atlanta penitentiary, until at least He didn't think that made any sense. So he watched the news, subscribed to USA Today and saw glimpses of his old life. Maybe it would be a picture of George Brett's tanned face surrendering to middle age, or Hal McRae in a dugout coaching.

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For them, time went on. For Aikens, it was frozen in He'd write letters to his old Royals teammates, in part out of boredom, but mostly to reconnect with a time when he was special. He heard back only from McRae. Aikens wondered, in the quiet of his cell, whether he had ceased to exist out in the world after Dec. He thought about his daughters, about how they'd be adults, complete strangers, when he was scheduled to be released.

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