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Giants’ generosity a godsend to ill Loewenstein

Giants’ generosity a godsend to ill Loewenstein
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A World Series victory meant a full share of $317,631.29 for David Loewenstein

David Loewenstein was having one of his bad days. Afflicted with advanced Crohn's disease and diabetes, he could barely lift his head, let alone answer his cell phone. But he saw that the caller was his boss and longtime pal, San Francisco Giants equipment manager Mike Murphy, so he summoned the strength to reach across the bed and flip open the phone.

Murphy dispensed with his usual pleasantries. "You were voted a full share, David," he said. "Everybody appreciates you."

Loewenstein was overwhelmed. A full World Series share came to $317,631.29, a life-changing windfall for a gravely ill career clubhouse attendant. The Giants' players had sole determination over how the cash was doled out among employees – partial shares and cash awards were awarded in addition to full shares – and they'd voted Loewenstein the maximum.

He laid his head back on the pillow. "I'm not forgotten," he whispered to Murphy. "Tell everybody thank you."

A Giants employee since 1985, Loewenstein already was appreciative of many present and former players. Pitcher Barry Zito(notes) and other Giants had quietly donated money to help with his massive medical bills, enabling him to get around-the-clock nursing care in an assisted living home. Catcher Bengie Molina(notes) visited him in a Scottsdale, Ariz., hospital during a particularly painful Crohn's flareup during 2010 spring training. Outfielder Aaron Rowand(notes) gives him words of encouragement when Murphy hands him the phone in the clubhouse.

In and out of the hospital all last season, Loewenstein, 54, was forced to leave the team for good shortly before the playoffs began. On his way out of the clubhouse he told manager Bruce Bochy that he'd love to see the team win it all. Loewenstein watched from Stanford Hospital in Palo Alto, Calif., as the Giants defeated the Atlanta Braves and Philadelphia Phillies to reach the World Series, then dispensed with the Texas Rangers in five games.

Bochy called Loewenstein a few days later. "I remembered what you said," the manager told him. "You predicted it!"

"It'd be great to see you do it again," Loewenstein replied.

Returning to work would be difficult. For decades, he'd pressed and hung jerseys in lockers before the players walked in each day and he'd washed their dirty socks after the games. He'd picked up wet towels and scraped mud off thousands of spikes. All for minimum wage, plus player tips.

From Will Clark and Vida Blue, through Matt Williams and Rod Beck, through Jason Schmidt(notes) and Benito Santiago, to Tim Lincecum(notes) and Matt Cain(notes), and for so long, the scowling Barry Bonds, Loewenstein saw them come and go.

The realization that players voted him a full World Series share even though he wasn't present during the playoffs fills Loewenstein with joy. He also will receive a championship ring. He'd hoped to attend either the home opener Friday or the on-field ring ceremony Saturday at AT&T Park, but Friday morning he said he was too sick.

"It's been a long time and I want to see everybody," he said. "I want to be there this weekend but I can't do it. I'm too ill."

Loewenstein remains on the payroll and the team insurance plan. In an age when companies often find ways to sever ties with seriously ill employees, the Giants are taking care of one of their own.

"I'm very sick, I'll be honest with you," he said. "It's not fun. My life is [bad]. This is terrible."

Crohn's is an inflammatory bowel disease with no known cure. The cause is unclear, although a prevailing theory is that the body's immune system mistakes food and other substances as being foreign. Constant diarrhea, rectal bleeding, weight loss, skin problems and chronic fatigue often result.

Loewenstein first exhibited symptoms in 1978 when he was a groundskeeper for the New York Yankees. He moved to the Houston Astros as a clubhouse attendant in 1980 when his stepfather, Al Rosen, became the team's president and was hospitalized for the first time during his six years in Texas.

Astros players Joe Niekro, Jose Cruz and Joe Sambito visited Loewenstein in the hospital. "I was very touched," he said.

When Rosen, a legendary Cleveland Indians third baseman who went on to a long career as a baseball executive, became the Giants president and general manager in 1985, Loewenstein went with him. He immediately hit it off with Murphy, who started with the Giants as a batboy in 1958, the year they moved to San Francisco from New York.

The clubhouse at AT&T Park is Murphy's castle, and Loewenstein became his right-hand man. Their workdays began before noon and didn't end until well after midnight. Known as a dedicated worker with attention to detail, Loewenstein did his best to conceal his condition, which forced him to wear a colostomy bag.

"There's no explanation how or why I got it," he said. "Sometimes the symptoms were manageable and sometimes they got worse. I almost lost my life twice."

Loewenstein started a charity event at a San Mateo bowling alley to raise funds for Crohn's and colitis research. Jim Davenport, Rich Murray and Blue were among the players and coaches who participated.

As the years went by, the Crohn's worsened and Loewenstein became diabetic as well. He's always tired.

"I don't feel real hungry," he said. "I see doctors all the time. I take a bunch of medication."

His only respite is the Giants. It used to be work, now it's watching games on TV or listening on the radio.

"It's early in the season and we have a lot ahead of us," he said. "I think we are going to come around and be a good ballclub."

Occasionally the phone rings. It takes all the effort he can muster to answer. But he does, because the voice on the other end could be his mother or his sister or Rosen, who is 87 and living near Palm Springs, Calif.

"My stepfather is very supportive of me," Loewenstein said. "He's the greatest guy I ever met."

Close behind in his estimation are the Giants. From Murphy to Bochy to all the players who voted him a World Series share. His ring will arrive in the mail soon, or maybe Murphy will drive down and give it to him, one more validation of Loewenstein's contribution.

"Getting the share surprised me, you know why?" he said. "Because I wasn't working when we won. And they still remembered. All those years meant something."