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Lyons keeps the faith after Katrina12/22/2005 11:44 AM ET
By Marty Noble / MLB.com
NEW YORK -- It was a modest career compared with those of some of his Mets contemporaries, though it had its moments and its high point. A World Series ring testifies to that. A newspaper page -- the back page of one of the city's notorious tabloids -- offers validation. If Barry Lyons could find the ring, he'd wear it again. If the preserved back page isn't too damaged, he'll mount it again and relive his grand slam moment. And if his scrapbooks aren't too waterlogged, he'll embrace them.
So much of the evidence of Lyon's baseball successes is gone, though, sent who knows where by water, wind and God's will. Printed memories have floated away or drowned, leaving his mind's scrapbook to fill the void. That scrapbook is straining its binder these days, stretched by a new epilogue -- an unplanned, unwanted and unforgettable one.
Hurricane Katrina tore through Lyons' life and property fourth months ago. The lost baseball mementos are the least of it. When Lyons and his family were holding on as the storm ravaged his beloved Biloxi, Miss., jewelry hardly was a priority or even a thought. "I didn't see us dying," he said. "God takes care of us."
But when Katrina moved on and the devastation and loss of life became apparent, the former catcher understood how close he, his wife, daughter and father had come. "Looking back, if this or that happened," he said, "there would have been a great chance."
Now, still in the initial stages of recovery, Lyons has a library of images that occasionally occupies his mind: his daughter, Danielle, and her dog on a bed that was floating four feet off the floor; the oak tree that fell -- in the opposite direction -- as he stood within its reach, his back turned to it, uncertain why his family looked so alarmed; the water that surrounded and finally invaded his golf-course home; the wind that threatened everything. And the darkness that made the sounds of nature's fury more ominous.
"Never had anything like it," he said. "Not even close. Compared to this, [Hurricane] Camille was a thunderstorm."
Lyons spoke by cell phone this week from his new home -- a trailer, "a FEMA special," as he identified it. It rests on the property of his parents, adjacent to their uninhabitable home. His house is in worse shape. Remarkably, the roof remains intact. What's beneath it is a frame. The sheetrock that Katrina left had to be removed. "We had nine feet of water," Lyons said.
Lost in the surge and the resulting soggy mess is the World Series ring Lyons treasured after he received it belatedly -- 10 years ago. "I'd rather have my house back," he said. "But the ring was so special to me. I know I didn't do much that year, but I was part of that team. And I loved being part of it." Lyons, Dwight Gooden's Minor League catcher, made his Major League debut in April 1986 as the Mets began their rush to 108 victories. He appeared in merely six games as Gary Carter's understudy before he was replaced on the roster by fellow catcher Ed Hearn.
Carter went down in August with a thumb injury, but Lyons had suffered a broken arm earlier in the month. Hearn and John Gibbons took Carter's place.
Former Mets general manager Al Harazin, then an assistant to Frank Cashen, had created a prerequisite for the championship jewelry -- a number of games played or days on the roster that had to be met by each player; otherwise, no ring.
Lyons was among the players who didn't meet Harazin's standard; so too were Terry Leach, Dave Magadan and Randy Myers. But after Myers established himself in the big leagues, he received permission from the Mets to use the mold and had rings made for himself and the other wallflowers.
Gone too is framed back page from the Aug. 21, 1987, edition of Newsday. Hearn had been moved to the Royals in the Spring Training trade for David Cone. Lyons, now Carter's primary understudy, hit a grand slam off Kelly Downs of the Giants at Shea Stadium on that date, turning a 4-3 deficit into a 7-4 lead that begat a victory. "We were 2 1/2 [games] out after that game," Lyons said. "I felt I helped."
A friend had the back page framed for him. It hung conspicuously in the Barry Lyons Baseball Academy in Biloxi until Lyons thought it would be safer at his home.
It was, but not safe enough. The frame now is in storage, drying out. "I'm anxious to see if it's in decent shape," he said.
Lyons, now 45 and 10-plus years removed from his last big-league at-bat, left Nashville three years ago to be with his elderly parents in his native Mississippi. He returned to Biloxi because he knew they needed care and because he wanted to help in the effort to bring Minor League baseball to his hometown. He was in the process of making the final nursing home arrangements for his mother, who had been bed-ridden for a year, when Katrina began to menace the Gulf of Mexico and all those who lived near the water.
His 79-year-old father, afflicted with Alzheimer's disease, also was unable to fend for himself.
"We got Mom in the home -- kind of an emergency basis -- just before the hurricane," he said.
He had no plans to evacuate. "We weren't supposed to get hit like we did," he said.
But on the morning of Aug. 29, his pool and the rain joined forces. His home was surrounded by water. The Lyons fled to the home of neighbors who had evacuated, a ranch home similar to the one they left behind -- one floor and an attic.
"The water was over my daughter's head and up to my armpits," he recalled.
The attic was small, crowded, dark and dangerous. The Lyons' opted to go outside to a carport that had a trailer and ski boat.
"I tried to unfasten it," Lyons said. "But I couldn't. It was tied up down underneath in the water. Just as well, because who knows where we would have been taken if it wasn't anchored."
Four people and one dog sought refuge in the boat that, fortunately, rose with the water and under a tarpaulin. For three hours.
"Marsha [his wife] and I had a calmness and a peace that we expressed to our daughter," Lyons said. "There was no panic or screaming. The good Lord saw us through."
There was even some levity. "My dad didn't really understand the situation," Lyons said. "He thought he was driving the boat. ... After a while, Marsha said, 'Let him be.'"
The storm subsided, but another three hours in the boat passed, affording Lyons time to contemplate. "If it had come on like that in the dark ... I don't know," he said. "At least people could see what they had to do and where they could go."
The aftermath has been stressful. Insurance issues, the health of his parents, life in a trailer and losses of family keepsakes. His brother -- who's "down on his luck," Lyons said -- has moved in.
But he has maintained a balance. "If I let my guard down," he said, "it could get overwhelming. Down the road, we'll be OK. It's not like we're destitute."
BAT, the Baseball Assistance Team, has provided financial aid, and FEMA has come through, making alternative housing available in Destin, Fla. The Lyons spent Thanksgiving there, and they left Biloxi on Thursday to return for Christmas and New Year's.
"Life goes on," Lyons said. "We'll be OK."
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.
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