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Dad Lives In Her Memory / Family bonds strong for NYU's Wiggins

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

the face of her father, Alan Wiggins, in his San Diego Padres uniform and

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

World Series to the Detroit Tigers. "My mom and dad talk about him a lot,"

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

bases.

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

thing."

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

addiction.

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

last night.

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."

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