Tucked away in her NYU dorm room, junior Cassandra Wiggins
keeps her favorite Major League Baseball card in a photo album. On the card is
looking like the man she tries to remember. He is young and proud and healthy,
the way she recalls even in her final vision of him, when he was 32 years old
and dying of AIDS complications.
"The last time I saw him was Christmas Eve," she said. "He was in the
hospital on a respirator and I was so happy to see him. He was literally on his
deathbed, but he lit up when we walked in."
Wiggins was 8 years old, and with younger siblings Alan Jr. and Candice,
was escorted into the room by their mother, Angela.
That was the final time the family would be together. Less than two weeks
later, on Jan. 6, 1991, Wiggins died at Cedars- Sinai Medical Center in Los
Angeles, the first known major-league ballplayer to succumb to the disease.
Whenever Cassandra Wiggins, now a basketball player with the Violets,
struggles for a memory of her father, her boyfriend, Anthony Gwynn, offers a
hand. Gwynn, 20, is a junior outfielder at San Diego State, and, like her
father and his, is on the path to professional baseball. A preseason
All-American selection, Gwynn is eligible for the Major League Baseball draft
this June. His father is future Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn, who also happens to
be his coach.
Further linking the younger Wiggins and Gwynn is their fathers' friendship.
Tony Gwynn spent 20 seasons with the Padres, a little more than three in the
early 1980s with Wiggins, his road roommate on the 1984 team that lost the
Anthony Gwynn said. "My dad has a lot of tapes from 1984 that I still watch."
The day Alan Wiggins died left an impression on the younger Gwynn, who
said, "It's the only time I've seen my dad break down."
The bond between the Wigginses and Gwynns was natural. Angela Wiggins and
Alicia Gwynn were pregnant with Cassandra and Anthony at the same time. The
kids played and went to school together until the eighth grade. The two got
back in touch last summer, when Cassandra came to New York and Anthony was
vacationing in Cape Cod, Mass., and they have been dating since. "She called me
up to see how I was doing," Gwynn said. "We got together for coffee and it
felt like no time had passed."
There is an inherent trust between the two that makes the cross-continent
relationship possible. "That has a lot to do with the fact that our pasts are
so closely related," he said.
Tony Gwynn, who retired in 2001, does not talk to his son much about the
turmoil that ended Wiggins' baseball career, only that his friend, whom he
called "Wiggy," helped make him a better player. Gwynn hit second behind
Wiggins and compared him to Rickey Henderson, saying Wiggins would set the game
tone with his fervor. In 1984, the Padres won the National League pennant,
Gwynn won his first batting title and Wiggins set a club record with 70 stolen
Losing her father became most real to Cassandra Wiggins when she first
returned to school after his death. Everyone knew not only that her dad had
died, but that he died of a disease still considered taboo. Some 10 months
later, when NBA great Magic Johnson revealed that he was HIV-positive, Wiggins
suddenly felt like she could get past the stigma of the times. "I thank God for
players like Magic Johnson," she said. "It is a sad thing, but when he came
out talking about it, people started to understand that it's not this strange
While the family cannot escape Alan Wiggins' well-documented cocaine and IV
drug use, there is no disgust in any of their voices when they discuss his
Now 20, Wiggins, who comes off the bench for Division III NYU, recollects
days watching her dad in the infield or stealing a base, thinking it would last
forever. "It was awesome to go see my dad play," she said. "I can remember
sitting at the games with my mother, but I never really understood how good he
was until after [he was gone]."
Reminders of the past might have been more difficult for Angela Wiggins,
44, to handle a few years back. Losing the man she loved was devastating; the
way she believes it happened angers her even more. Wiggins said she might have
taken a bat to someone's head when she was younger, namely the few she believed
contributed to the end of her husband's career. Alan Wiggins, who made his
major-league debut for the Padres in 1981, played his final two-plus seasons
with the Baltimore Orioles.
"I haven't really ever gotten over it. It was very painful," Angela Wiggins
said. "I am a silent sufferer and it's all very difficult for me."
Like their parents (the 6-foot Angela excelled at track in high school),
Cassandra, Alan Jr. and Candice have found a passion in sports. Alan Jr., a
senior at California's Horizon High School, will play Division I basketball for
the University of San Francisco next year. Candice, a blue-chip junior at
nearby La Jolla Country Day School, is being recruited to play basketball by
Stanford, Duke, UConn and Tennessee.
For Cassandra Wiggins, who played at Pasadena Community College for the
2000-01 season before heading to NYU, parting with the West Coast was like
stepping toward her future. The difficult transition was made easier by finding
her niche on an NYU team that finished the regular season winning six straight
(19-6, 9-5 UAA) and clinching the top seed in the ECAC Tournament, which began
After graduation, she plans to go to law school to become a sports agent.
The loss of her father has given her perspective. "It took a long time to get
over spiritually," she said. "But I became closer to God."
Though Angela Wiggins has yet to enter a baseball stadium since Alan's
passing, she is happy to walk into a basketball gym. As she said, "I love
watching them play."