Orlando Cepeda returns to AT&T Park for first Giants game since stroke

AT&T PARK — For three days after his fall on Feb. 19, Orlando Cepeda lay in a medically-induced coma. He doesn’t remember much surrounding the event, and doesn’t like to talk about it, but when he woke up, he saw a familiar face: Juan Marichal.

The legendary San Francisco Giants pitcher was in the Bay Area to be inducted into the Multi-Ethnic Sports Hall of Fame in Oakland on Feb. 23. Cepeda was slated to introduce Marichal at the 18th annual induction ceremony, but before he could, the 80-year old Cepeda fell outside his Fairfield gym and suffered a stroke.

When Marichal visited his bedside, Cepeda had yet to respond to any commands — wiggle your finger, wiggle your toes.

“Juan kissed him, and said, ‘Brother, I’m here, do something for me,'” said Ali Cepeda, Orlando’s son. When Marichal made the request, his old teammate obliged.

On Thursday, just over four months since his accident, Cepeda attended his first Giants game of the season at AT&T Park. With Ali by his side, Cepeda barely spoke above a whisper as he spoke publicly for the first time since the accident.

“Coming to the ballpark, it’s like coming home,” Cepeda said.

During his convalescence, Cepeda — who won the 1958 Rookie of the Year in the Giants’ first year in the Bay — received his fair share of visitors. He didn’t want to talk about baseball. He wanted to talk about life. So, naturally, who came to visit?

“The same people who talk about baseball,” he said.

Those included Marichal, Dusty Baker, Larry Baer, Marty Lurie and Peter Magowan. Upon his return to AT&T Park, he was greeted by Giants staff.

“It means a lot. In this situation, when you come so close to going the other way, it’s amazing to see the people who care about you,” Cepeda said.

Cepeda, nicknamed “The Baby Bull,” spent eight-plus seasons in San Francisco, and 17 in the major leagues, including a stop with the Oakland Athletics in 1972. He finished his career with a .297 batting average, a World Series title and 379 home runs. His number, 30, was retired by the Giants in 1999, the same year he was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. He remains one of the most popular San Francisco Giants in history.

“Him coming back was definitely part of recovery,” Ali said. ” … The Giants family has been first-class … We can’t thank them enough for what the Giants have done for us. How they have shown their appreciation through all of this has been priceless.”

Before coming to the game, Cepeda went to the doctor, who asked him to tell him one thing that hurt.

“I can tell you 50 things,” Cepeda said. The doctor laughed.

“He’s battling every day,” Ali said. “He’s a fighter. He’s still got some good years left in him. He was trying to swing with his cane, earlier.”

On a television over Cepeda’s left shoulder in Suite 62, Johnny Cueto gave up a three-run home run as part of a four-run first inning, well on his way to a 11-2 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals, the team with whom Cepeda won a World Series.

Cepeda has been following the Giants as he’s recovered. He says they have to win more games, and agreed that they may need some more hitting. Ensconced below a photo of his 21-year old self gripping an array of bats on the wall of his suite, his eyes twinkled.

“I stay in good shape,” he said. “How many games we out?”

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