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Published: Sunday, 5/14/2006

King of Queen City

Len Matuszek had the distinction of being the guy who replaced baseball's all-time hits leader, Pete Rose, at first base for the Philadelphia Phillies.

But that's not the most impressive entry on Matuszek's resume.

Len Matuszek, right, and his friend Andy Hiltz have developed a multidimensional friendship that few others can match. Len Matuszek, right, and his friend Andy Hiltz have developed a multidimensional friendship that few others can match.
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Each morning, he helps Andy Hiltz shave and get dressed. Matuszek then drives Hiltz to his job, to work out or to a doctor's appointment.

Matuszek, a Toledo native who played baseball and basketball for the Rockets in the 1970s, follows a similar routine every day in Cincinnati.

For the last six years, he has been the full-time caregiver for Hiltz, who was hospitalized at age 9 for a severe illness that resulted in significant damage to his brain.

This is a story of devotion, dedication and determination.

"Len is my bodyguard," Andy said. "He is always there for me and nobody ever messes with Len [or me] because Len is tough. But Len also has a soft, caring side that most people don't see.

"He always offers me encouragement and tells me he loves me. He challenges me real hard and always tells me, 'No excuses, Andy.'

"Len gets me up and going every day. He's big on making sure I have clothes on that match. He oversees my daily schedule and takes me where I need to go. That is important, because I can't drive."

Because of the amount of time Len devotes to Andy, Matuszek occasionally has trouble finding free time for himself. It has been a major lifestyle adjustment, but Len isn't complaining.

He is Andy's mentor and best friend.

"Don't portray me as a saint or an altar boy, but I am proud of what I've done," Matuszek said from his home in Cincinnati. "A lot of times in life, we wonder if we're doing enough to give back to the community. I hope I am. Andy is my responsibility.

"I have no degree in this and no real background. I've just done it the way I raised my kids, the only way I know how."

Len's wife Karen taught special education at Purcell Marian High School in Cincinnati and Andy, now 28, was one of her first students.

As Karen and Andy's relationship blossomed, Len and the Matuszek's three children also befriended Andy.

Len had played professional baseball for 12 years and spent parts of seven seasons in the major leagues.

Nine years ago, he found himself in-between jobs. Karen asked her husband if he would be interested in transporting Andy around town for a few months while his parents found a full-time person to handle those duties.

"Len didn't hesitate, he volunteered his services immediately," said Karen, a Bowling Green State University graduate who now teaches at Cincinnati Moeller, her husband's alma mater. "It didn't surprise me. He's a wonderful husband and Andy is a wonderful kid."

Len, 51, realized right away that he and Andy had a special bond. "Every time I'd see him we just connected," Matuszek said. "I would put him on the bench beside me when I coached my sons in baseball. Within a month or two, Andy was telling me things he had never told anyone."

Andy contracted a viral infection when he was in elementary school. His body temperature dropped and the oxygen supply to his brain was cut off. He lapsed into a coma for more than a month.

The recovery process was slow. Andy spent more than a year in a hospital near South Bend, Ind. He missed two years of school due to his anoxic brain injury and spent considerable time in a wheelchair.

He may have lost his short term memory and some of his motor skills, but he hasn't lost his zest for life.

"Andy could be a greeter for George Bush and his poll numbers would go up," Len said. "He's got that kind of charisma. He's got eyes that sparkle. He's a buddy of mine, a friend of mine.

"I'll wake up some days not feeling so great. I'll look at Andy and say, 'Do you ever feel down?' He says, 'No.' I swear he always has a smile on his face."

Andy communicated to Len early on that he wanted to move out of his family's house - it is just 15 minutes away from the Matuszeks - find a job and get married.

Two of Andy's wishes have come true.

"He got the independence he wanted, moved in with us full-time in 2000 and he has found a job, actually two of them," Len said. "Now if I can find him a female companion, someone he can marry, I will have done my job on this earth. He wants that more than anything in life.

"We talk about girls all the time. I feel like I am back in high school."

Len and Karen, who will celebrate their 30th wedding anniversary in September, and the Matuszek children - Michelle (28), Kevin (25) and Kyle (23) - consider Andy part of the family.

Andy often tags along to West Virginia with Len and Karen to watch Kyle play baseball for the Mountaineers. Kevin also played Division I baseball and had a brief stint in the minors.

"It wouldn't have worked if my family hadn't accepted Andy," Len said. "All my kids have embraced him. They love him like a brother. They have a great deal of respect for him. I get paid for taking care of Andy, but I'd do it for free."

Len had a difficult childhood growing up in Toledo in the late 1950s and early 1960s. His family was poor and struggled to make ends meet.

"Those weren't happy years for me," Len said. "My family was challenged big time. We were kind of like gypsies. We moved around from place to place. My father [Len] got into some trouble and he would be there some times, and other times he wouldn't be.

"We had our utilities turned off several times and there were days when we didn't eat. I knew what the word eviction meant in third grade."

Although Len's sister, Elaine, and brother, Ron, graduated from Central Catholic, the family moved to Cincinnati when Len was in fifth grade.

He helped lead Moeller to its first state baseball championship in 1972, then headed back to Toledo to attend UT and play sports.

Matuszek played baseball and basketball for the Rockets from 1973-1976. He was a four-year starter in baseball and a two-time All-Mid-American Conference pick.

He never hit below .300 and played every position but pitcher and catcher.

Matuszek was a three-year letterman in basketball and UT's starting point guard as a senior, but he is still 14 credits shy of earning a dual degree in marketing and management.

He was a fifth-round pick of the Philadelphia Phillies 30 years ago and was signed by famed scout Tony Lucadello from Fostoria.

Matuszek was stranded in the minor leagues for five seasons before making his big league debut late in 1981.

He had another brief stint with the Phillies in 1982 and again in 1983. That year he was called up from Triple-A Portland, where he was hitting .330 with 24 homers.

The aging Rose was sent to the bench and Matuszek helped lead the Phillies to a division title. But he wasn't eligible for the National League playoffs or World Series because he was called up one day too late.

Rose, the guy Len spent his summers in Cincinnati watching slap singles all over the field, left Philadelphia in 1984.

Matuszek was handed the Phillies' starting first base job - at age 29. He struggled, became a platoon player and was traded to the Toronto Blue Jays the following year. He ended his career with the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Overall, Matuszek hit .234 with 30 home runs and 119 RBIs in the majors.

In Len s 12 years of professional baseball, we moved 42 times, Karen said. And all three of our kids were born in different states.

After his baseball career ended, Len coached a high school boys basketball team for a while in Clearwater, Fla. He served as a spokesman for a few products and was a sportscaster in Cincinnati.

But with his TV broadcasting career in limbo in 1994, Matuszek resigned abruptly and walked away from that job after 3 years.

Not long after, Len met Andy Hiltz.

Andy comes from a wealthy family. He visits his parents once or twice a month. The rest of the time he hangs out with Len.

The Matuszeks have become my second family, Andy said. Every one of them has treated me like a brother, like I was a Matuszek. That is really, really special to me. I am probably the most happy I have ever been.

Andy no longer has to visit physical or occupational therapists for treatment. Len has taken over that role.

In Andy s mind, Len is king of the Queen City.

My life has had many difficulties and challenges, Andy said. But a lot of good has come out of my brain injury. And one of the best things to come from it is my relationship with Len. I think the brain injury was a plus for me there.



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