Friday, November 7, 2003

Friends mourn player, and a future cut short



By John Fay
The Cincinnati Enquirer

[photo]
Dernell Stenson batted .247 in 37 games with the Reds in 2003.
The Associated Press


As the Reds director of player development, Tim Naehring has dealt with his share of crises. But all the drama over playing time and minor league assignments were baseball problems.

Wednesday and Thursday, Naehring was dealing with a real-life tragedy - the death of Dernell Stenson, the Reds outfielder who was shot and killed Wednesday in Chandler, Ariz., where he was playing in the Arizona Fall League.

"We're all still in a state of shock that a class act and quality person like Dernell Stenson is no longer with us," Naehring said. "I can't imagine what his family and close friends are going through."

Naehring has been in contact with Stenson's brother, Thomas, and assisting the family with the death benefits Major League Baseball offers. No funeral arrangements had been finalized late Thursday.

On Thursday, police arrested Kevin G. Riddle, 43, who was being held in Maricopa County on charges of possession of stolen property. Riddle was found driving Stenson's SUV.

Police called Riddle an "investigative lead" in the Stenson case.

Riddle was found driving Stenson's 2002 Isuzu Rodeo at 3:45 a.m. Wednesday morning, two hours after Stenson was found dead on a Chandler residential street.

Police were still trying to piece together what happened. They did not know if Stenson knew Riddle.

There were reports that Stenson was shot inside the car, then pushed out and dragged as it drove away.

Stenson was last seen around 11:30 p.m. Tuesday at a club named Sugar Daddy's. His body was found several miles from the club.

Stenson, a 25-year-old outfielder, was one of seven Reds players on the Scottsdale Scorpions roster, along with catcher Dane Sardinha, outfielder Stephen Smitherman, and pitchers Kyle Edens, David Gil, Brian Shackleford and Joe Valentine.

Stenson was added to the list after Wily Mo Pena chose to play Winter Ball in the Dominican Republic, rather than in the AFL.

Rick Burleson, the manager of the Reds' Triple-A Louisville team, was managing Scottsdale.

"He's just crushed," Naehring said.

The Reds were going to allow players to attend Stenson's funeral, and then begin their offseason.

The Arizona Fall League cancelled games Wednesday and Thursday, but play was to resume today.

The AFL was working to bring in psychologists to help players with grief counseling.

Stenson was claimed by the Reds off waivers on Feb. 25 after he was released by the Boston Red Sox. He spent seven years in the Red Sox organization after being drafted by the club in the third round of the 1996 draft.

"He was considered the heir apparent to (former first baseman) Mo Vaughn at one time," Naehring said. "But, obviously, his career had stalled in Boston."

Naehring and then-Triple-A manager Dave Miley had a talk with Stenson shortly after the Reds got him.

"We told him we were going to take a step back, send him to Double-A, let him play everyday there," Naehring said. "When you do, players sometimes are disruptive."

Stenson wasn't.

"He was never a problem," Naehring said. "He proved to us all why he was a top prospect at one time."

Stenson ended the season with the Reds. He hit .247 with three home runs and 13 RBI. For the year, he combined for 22 homers and 103 RBI.

His strong showing in the AFL - he was hitting .395 - put him in the race for a spot on the Opening Day roster in 2004.

Stenson was born and still resided in LaGrange, Ga. His death hit particularly hard there among those who knew him.

"People are stunned," his high school coach Donnie Branch told the Associated Press. "In baseball, we've never had a better player. People in the country hadn't seen that yet, and he was fixing to prove what he really could do."

E-mail jfay@enquirer.com




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