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Long wait goes on for ultimate Comeback Kid

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- There is no resting place for Ted Williams. A legend on America's ballfields, Williams was brought here upon his death nearly five years ago, and while some look to the day he can be brought back to life, there is no headstone, no grieving place, no serene patch of greenery where family, friends, or fans can spend a contemplative moment, explore a sense of connection with the late Red Sox slugger.

Williams, 83 when his heart stopped, was brought to the Alcor Life Extension Foundation July 5, 2002. For now, and likely for decades, perhaps forever, he remains housed in desert country, in a cookie-cutter, single-level commercial building nestled among dozens like it at the Scottsdale Airpark.

While Memorial Day weekend typically leads friends and family to visit the resting places of loved ones, Williams and his son, John Henry -- also brought here upon his death in March 2004 -- weren't included in that enduring American ritual.

"I visit my brother and father every day in my mind," Claudia Williams, the slugger's daughter and John Henry's sister, wrote in an e-mail. "I wish, hope and believe and have faith in our decisions. I do not question my/our decision. It is timeless, because it was made out of love, and at a point in our lives where the three of us could not have been closer.

"And though I have great respect for the fans of Ted Williams, a fan can not claim him as their father. I know Theodore Samuel Williams only as my dad. I never saw him play baseball. I saw him fish. I saw him as a completely different man than the one who played baseball.

"John Henry and I had a relationship with our dad, like no other person, family member or fan could. We stood by each other, defended each other, believed in each other, and fought the adversities of life together -- all for one -- one for all."

According to one expert, the day when the Williamses might be reunited could come later this century. For now, Ted and John Henry are among only 161 people worldwide -- all but four of them stored in three US cryonic facilities -- who await their rebirth in the deep-chilled state of cryostasis.

Former Alcor employee Ben Best, now president of the Cryonics Institute in Clinton Township, Mich., emphasized in a recent phone interview that little has changed in the science the last five years. Nonetheless, experts and devotees believe technological advances will have people such as Williams and his son back walking among us in the next 50-100 years.

"I'd say 100 years, maximum, but a lot of people believe it will never happen," said Best. "Of course, if I believed that, I wouldn't be doing this."

As for a scientific lab lacking the feel or serenity of a bucolic resting place, Best noted that through cryonics, "Something greater exists -- the possibility that we can come back. I think that should count for a heck of a lot more."

Claudia Williams, who lives in Florida, expressed much the same sentiment.

"My family rests where our hopes and beliefs are," she wrote. "I believe in science. My dad and John Henry believe in science. I would never question someone's religion and criticize their beliefs. No one else should either! It's a human's right -- regardless. It is however, and has been throughout time and history, an easy target to condemn, kill and segregate people for their differences."

Obscure existence
There is little vegetation around the drab building, save for a sprouting palm tree that slightly obscures the "ALCOR" name mounted on the building's facade. The area, including the building itself, makes no mention of who Teddy Ballgame was, what he did, how he lived those 83 years.

For a business that deals in life everlasting, Alcor's headquarters could not be any more lifeless.

On a recent day, a few hundred yards down the street to the west of the building, small jets, single-prop planes, and the occasional helicopter flitted in and out of the adjacent airport. Across the street, a steady stream of workers and clients popped in and out of the Arbors Office Complex. Intermittent traffic made its way along East Acoma Drive in front of Alcor, drivers making their way to and around businesses such as Kyocera Solar, Cigar King, Affinity Kitchens, and Desert Sun Pools. Rebirth, nestled in with sun, smokes, cabinetry, and refreshing dips in the water.

According to Jennifer Chapman, Alcor's marketing director and chief administrative officer, any discussion of Williams is off-limits.

"At this time, that is not a subject that we are available to discuss," Chapman said via a voicemail message. "So, unfortunately, we are not going to be able to work with you on this project."

Alcor, she said, is "really restricting the media we do right now anyway . . . and in particular, that's a topic that we don't ever talk about at this point in time."

In a follow-up request, Chapman cited "incompatibility with our media policy." Alcor, she added, grants media requests only "for articles that are highly focused on the science of cryonics."

Elongated and with a gray exterior, the Alcor building has two other tenants, Builders Custom Lighting and Jeanne's Workroom Inc., each with single-door access from the front parking lot. Alcor itself has three front doors. The one to the right is unmarked. To the left, signage denotes Alcor's marketing and resource center.

On the middle door, a sign reads, "No Access."

"I have to believe that, regardless of how big a fan was of Ted Williams, they have to respect the fact that he was a private man," added Claudia Williams. "He never sought fame. He wanted to become the best at hitting a baseball. He was unprepared for what his hard work and determination would eventually bring to the rest of his personal life.

"Dad hated funerals, and visited no grave sites. He was his own person, and taught his children to be the same."

Fans disillusioned
The Scottsdale area holds no shortage of Red Sox fans. One of the most ardent is Bill Deacon, who grew up in Gardner, Mass., and was class president when he graduated from Gardner High in 1987. Soon after graduating from Middlebury four years later, he moved here to the desert and quickly fell in love with the restaurant business. His latest venture is the Muze Lounge, no more than a 10-minute drive north of where Williams awaits his awakening.

To Deacon, the thought of Williams, a legendary hitter and Marine Corps pilot, being housed here is a "bizarre, Jerry Springer-like" situation.

"I mean, every time I drive by that place I think, wow, isn't it amazing that such an incredible baseball legend would be there, inside this dumpy little lab in Scottsdale," he said. "Nothing about the place, at least from driving by, says 'cutting-edge technology.' To me, the whole thing smacks of a bunch of snake oil salesmen."

For Sox fans like Deacon, the Alcor building is the only trace of the game's last .400 hitter.

"To think that's Graceland for the average Red Sox fan . . . that's sort of pathetic," said Deacon. "I guarantee you there are some fans out there that think of it as Graceland, right here in the middle of an airpark in Scottsdale, Ariz.

"We get a lot of Red Sox fans here at the restaurant, and I know it's ignominious for them to live in the same town that stores Ted Williams's head. They're crying in their beer a little bit over that."

A recent night at the Muze had a healthy number of Red Sox fans in attendance, most with eyes fixed on a Sox-Blue Jays game on TV. Some sported enough Sox paraphernalia that a passerby might have wondered whether Twins Souvenirs has opened a branch of its Yawkey Way headquarters here.

Dr. David Helgeson, 49, is not a wind-blown New Englander. A neuropsychologist, he moved here years ago from San Diego, where Williams was born Aug. 30, 1918. Though too young to remember watching Williams play, he always has felt a hometown bond to one of the game's biggest heroes.

"I drive by the place twice a week," said Helgeson, "and I just can't believe Ted Williams's head is hanging in there. Either someone in his family is a lunatic or has a lot more faith in science than I do."

'Private family matter'
The wait continues for Williams, while Alcor representatives and their colleagues in the cryonics industry attempt to evolve their reawakening science.

The Michigan facility where Best is president maintains 79 clients in cryostasis. Best also said a California-based life-extension facility has two bodies preserved, while a Russian facility holds four.

In Cooperstown, N.Y., Theodore Samuel Williams's likeness is one of 278 plaques to be found hanging in the Baseball Hall of Fame. In the cryonics world, based on Best's count, Williams is in an even more select group of 161.

For now, his body, presumably in two pieces, has been left for science one day to piece together, rejuvenate, and allow him one day again to hear people say, "There goes the greatest hitter who ever lived."

"There were many inaccuracies and contradictions in the weeks after my father's death," said Claudia Williams, referring to media accounts of the day, "not only about his passing, but about my brother's and father's loving relationship. Throughout all of this, the one thing that remained true was that my father, my brother and I wanted this to remain a private family matter. One cannot control the actions or reactions of others. But, one can remain true to their loved ones and their wishes.

"It is impossible for anyone to completely understand. They may come close, but essentially our thoughts and feelings, decisions and choices find peace in the sanctuary of our hearts and minds."