Sunday, March 13, 2011
Posted: 7:44 p.m.
By Jim SalisburyCSNPhilly.com
CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Images of earthquake ravaged Japan are everywhere. They are a stinging reminder of Mother Natures fury and of how lives can change when the ground shakes, the seas rise or the wind blows.
Roy Oswalt needs no reminder.
Less than a year ago, a devastating tornado ripped through the pitchers small Mississippi hometown. The house in which he grew up was leveled. Seven people in the area were killed.
Oswalts mother, Jean, was in the house when the wind started howling. She survived by ducking into a closet. His father, Billy, was on a hunting trip in Missouri when the tornado struck.
Oswalt is the first to admit that the destruction and tragedy that befell the area around Weir, Miss., last April pales in comparison to what has happened in Japan. Nevertheless, it was a frightening and difficult time in his life.
The pitcher, of course, was with the Houston Astros when the tornado hit his hometown. He was traded to the Phillies several months later. Upon learning of the tornado, Oswalt and his wife and their two daughters drove eight hours from Houston to Weir. While driving, Oswalt received updates from his brother, Brian.
Prepare yourself, Brian Oswalt told his brother. Theres nothing left.
When Roy arrived, he saw what his brother meant. Their boyhood home, the house in which they, along with their sister, Patricia, were raised, had been reduced to kindling by winds as high as 200 mph. A few strong beams around the frame of a closet saved their mother from serious injury or worse.
We were lucky, Oswalt said after pitching 5 23 innings in a minor-league game Sunday. My mother was OK. You can always build a new house.
Oswalt still has pictures of the destroyed home on his cell phone. Other pictures show a friends banged-up pickup truck. It had been tossed about like a toy.
It looked like a bomb went off, Oswalt said. Even now it looks totally different. All the trees are gone.
Oswalt lives about a mile from his parents. His home was untouched by the tornado.
For Oswalt, the most difficult part of the ordeal wasnt so much seeing his childhood home reduced to rubble. It was being the guy who literally drove the bulldozer that cleaned up the debris.
Youve probably heard the story about Oswalt and the bulldozer, but its worth telling again. Drayton McLane is the owner of the Houston Astros. He once asked young Roy Oswalt what his lifes goals were. Oswalt, a county boy who enjoys working the land on his property on Mississippi, responded that he wanted to own a bulldozer someday. McLane never forgot that.
Before Game 6 of 2005 National League Championship Series, with the Astros first-ever berth in the World Series on the line, McLane promised to buy Oswalt a bulldozer if he won the game.
Oswalt beat St. Louis and McLane kept his promise.
But Oswalt never dreamed hed one day use the bulldozer to clean up the rubble from his boyhood home.
That was pretty rough, he said.
Oswalt was actually the MVP of that NLCS and he had given the award to his parents. It was destroyed in the tornado.
I actually pushed up pieces of it with the bulldozer, he said.
A number of pictures and home movies some with Roy pitching as youngster and other mementos were also destroyed in the tornado. In a nice gesture, the Astros had a duplicate NLCS MVP award made for Oswalt. And in another nice move, the local photography studio that had taken high school portraits of all three Oswalt children still had the negatives on file and made reprints after the originals, which had hung on the wall at the family home, were destroyed.
In a small town, everyone tries to help each other, said Oswalt, who is clearly very proud of his hometown and the people in it.
Though there are still scars on the land, many of the structures that were leveled around Oswalts hometown last year have been rebuilt. In November, his parents moved into a new home built on the same spot as the original. Oswalt said his mother still gets a little antsy during thunderstorms, but is doing well otherwise.
Thats one thing about where I live, he said. People have a way of picking right back up. Theres a good spirit in our town.
E-mail Jim Salisbury at email@example.com
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