Friday, August 20, 2004

Randy's just dandy
New England manager Randy Hien overcomes near-fatal car accident to coach Lincoln All-Stars

By Mark Rogoff

Randy Hien's wife Patti always waits up for him to come home from work late at night, even in the wee hours of the morning.

She always does. Always.

At least that was the case until a blistering-cold five-degree night in February, a month simply known by New Englanders as harsh. With Patti seven months pregnant and the Lincoln, Rhode Island head coach working a concert at his nightclub, The Living Room (which does monthly fundraising for organizations such as Heart Fund, American Cancer Society and the Rape Crisis Center of Rhode Island), Randy suggested to his expecting wife that she take advantage of some much-needed rest at the genesis of February vacation from school. Patti is a special education teacher.

"Patti and I had plans to have a date the next night," Randy said. "And dates come few and far between."

Little did they know their next date would come in a hospital.

Sunday, February 15 began as a normal day for Randy. The father of five woke up, went to church and headed to his club to start setting up for the big concert. The band wasn't too interested in the club's pre-existing sound system, so Randy rented a system and spent all afternoon configuring the speakers.

He then made it home for supper, and that would end up being the last time he'd pull up in his driveway for two whole months.

"I made it home for an hour dinner break and I told my wife not to wait up for me because it was going to be a late night," he said. "My wife has a great habit of waiting up for me every night, but she said, 'I think you're right.'"

So back at the club it was. At the end of the show, Randy asked his son Charlie if he would help pack up the equipment so he could take off and get home.

"Sure, no problem. Take off, Dad," Charlie said.

On his way home from the show in his little, white Subaru, Randy was pulling onto an entrance ramp to Route 10 in Providence when he saw a pair of oncoming headlights. A Mercedes sport utility vehicle was about 100 yards away and closing in fast.

"The last thing I remember is, 'He's not stopping,'" Randy said. "But I did relax and wasn't tense, and that might have saved my life."

The Mercedes SUV collided head-on with Randy's vehicle. He was a victim of a drunk driver. His life was near its end as the engine from his own car sat atop his lap.

Broken ankles, broken femurs, broken ribs, broken nose. Broken everything.

It was so bad, a bone in his leg severed an artery and he almost bled to death.

"He basically sent me into never-never land," Randy said.

Randy was fading in and out of consciousness immediately after the collision, but does recall picking up the cell phone. He had a tough time dialing because his hands were in such bad shape.

"I tried my wife, and the answer machine answered," he said. "I remembered that I told her to go to bed, so I hung up. I didn't want to leave one of those last messages because I knew I was in big trouble. I didn't want to leave one of those 'I'll be heading to the hospital. I don't know which one. I might be living. I might not. I just didn't want to leave her one of those.'"

Randy made it.

The Lincoln Little League All-Star coach was in a coma for four days following his 18-and-a-half hours of surgery. He stayed in Rhode Island Hospital for 14 days before being shipped to the Landmark Rehabilitation Center in North Smithfield, Rhode Island for six weeks.

All the while, families throughout the city of Lincoln were cooking meals for Randy's wife and kids. The President of Lincoln Little League even held a fundraiser to help pay the mortgage on Randy's house. This occurred as medical bills of thousands and thousands of dollars came pouring in the mail. A father of one of the kids on the All-Star team, who wishes to keep under the radar screen, built Randy a ramp at his house so he had an easy time getting to the front door in his wheelchair.

"I've been coaching Little League for 28 years," Randy said. "I've made more friends in this town than you can imagine. This is my town."

Those friends extend beyond his peers and to his baseball students.

"At first, I didn't really know how bad it was," said pitcher Chris Constantino, who in early April pushed Randy in a wheelchair from St. Jude's Church to the Lincoln Little League field for Opening Day, the annual parade route for the season's beginning. "Then in the next couple of days I saw the car on TV and I saw him getting oxygen, and it really sunk in. I've known him since I was nine. He's almost like my father."

Said outfielder Steve Ricci: "It was the morning after, and I was watching the news with my mom. I was just devastated. I wasn't sure if I was going to make the All-Star team or not. I was wondering because I really wanted Randy as my coach. So I was wondering that if I did make, would he be my coach? I'm sad that he can't walk. He's like an uncle to me."

In fact, he's like an uncle to many. Randy has been a coach of the Lincoln All-Stars for quite some time, including 2001 when he coached the All-Star squad that earned a trip to South Williamsport. One could say they were with him in spirit throughout the whole tragedy.

A group photo of the 2001 team was found among the car rubble. Randy had no idea it had been stuffed under the driver's seat for nearly three years.

Four days after returning home from the rehab center "nature called and Catherine was born.

"I cried like a baby," he said. "It was the only time I cried during this whole thing."

Randy was at the hospital with Patti for the whole thing. Like Randy said, dates with his wife are few and far between, so with both he and Patti in the same building, Randy cashed in on his rain-check from February.

"Catherine was born Saturday morning," he said. "On Saturday and Sunday nights, my wife would push me down to the vending machine on the first floor and we'd have a date. We'd get bottles of water and some Wheat Thins. It was wicked cool. All the nurses were smiling at us because I was in a wheelchair and my wife just had a baby and she was pushing me."

Now, it looks like Randy and Patti will have to wait to go out again until Lincoln's baseball summer of 2004 is over. And while he'd prefer to win, this coach, father and uncle is proud of his team and knows they will give their best effort win or lose.

"I love these kids," he said.

2004 Little League Baseball Incorporated