Cordero once tried to honor his daughter's memory with a triumphant return to the major leagues, only to struggle on the mound in the minors, lose interest and quit the game he once loved. Two years later, he's showing glimpses of the Chad Cordero of old a 45-pounds-lighter version of the pitcher who once wowed Washington during the Nationals' inaugural season.
"It just seemed like it wasn't supposed to end that way," said his wife, Jamie, remembering how Cordero gave up baseball in the summer of 2011.
That was soon after the couple lost Tehya Irene Cordero, not quite 3 months old, to sudden infant death syndrome. Too soon, in reality. "When I walked away, I was going through a lot," Cordero said recently in the dugout of Spring Mobile Ballpark. "I wasn't into it. … I hated baseball. I didn't want anything to do with it."
To measure those words, you have to know who Cordero once was. In 2005, at age 23, he was the National League's best relief pitcher. The Montreal Expos moved to Washington and Cordero instantly became a fan favorite at RFK Stadium with his trademark flat-brimmed cap and dramatic success as a closer.
He did with the Nationals what he'd done at Cal State Fullerton, where his future wife was a gymnast and he quickly established himself in the Titans' powerful baseball program. "When he came in," former teammate David Bacani said, "we knew the game was going to get shut down."
Same story in Washington, where Metallica music would accompany his arrival from the bullpen and he saved 47 games in '05. But a convergence of Cordero's shoulder injury and his contract status resulted in the Nationals' letting him go in '08. Since then, Cordero has appeared in only nine major league games.
Signed to a minor-league deal, Cordero started this season with the Angels' Class-A affiliate before being promoted to the Triple-A Bees on April 20. He usually works in the eighth inning and has been fairly consistent, with 11 strikeouts and a 4.15 ERA in 82⁄3 innings.
"I told him the other day, I see him pitching in the big leagues again and having success, and I really believe it," said Bees teammate Brad Hawpe, a former Colorado Rockies outfielder.
Having rediscovered his love of baseball last spring by helping coach Bacani's team at Santa Margarita Catholic High School in southern California, Cordero is motivated by the thought of his children watching him pitch in the majors.
Cordero's family accompanied him to Salt Lake City last month, then returned home so his daughter could resume preschool. Riley, who turns 4 this month, wears princess dresses every day and prances around the house, pretending she's a horse. Cooper carries his bat everywhere and already displays a natural throwing motion at 16 months.
Tehya's angelic face is tattooed on her father's arm.
Her brief life will remain indelible to those who knew her and anyone who watches a tribute video featuring Bible verses and prayers and showing a happy, healthy child with thick, dark hair.
After Tehya died, "It was almost impossible to think that you could ever be happy again," Jamie Cordero said, "but it does happen."
Wearing purple T-shirts with their daughter's photo above their hearts and "Tehya's Titans" across the front, the Corderos participated in last October's Orange County's Walk to Remember, including a memorial service and "celebration of angels." The annual event is designed to help parents experience "a common bond that you don't want to have, but you do," Jamie said.
As another Mother's Day approaches, the Corderos have moved beyond that initial stage of "feeling that we could never go on," Jamie said.
"It's still tough; we still have our down days," Chad said. "Our family's still growing, and we're getting stronger and stronger."
A recent family photo shows Riley and Cooper with a framed picture of their sister. Riley likes to say she'll see Tehya someday, when she gets her own wings.
She also hopes her father comes home soon, as an Angel.
Chad Cordero's MLB statistics:
Year • Team G W L ERA Sv
2003 • Montreal 12 1 0 1.64 1
2004 • Montreal 69 7 3 2.94 14
2005 • Washington 74 2 4 1.82 47
2006 • Washington 68 7 4 3.19 29
2007 • Washington 76 3 3 3.36 37
2008 • Washington 6 0 0 2.08 0
2010 • Seattle 9 0 1 6.52 0
Total • 314 20 15 2.89 128