Andrew Toles is still on the Los Angeles Dodgers‘ roster but hasn’t played baseball in three years.
The Dodgers won the World Series last year, but while they were celebrating on the field in Arlington, Texas, Toles was in a hospital room in Florida.
Toles is unaware of the Dodgers’ accomplishment, his family says, unable to watch baseball or anything else on TV, let alone talk about baseball.
Toles, 29, who has been in and out of too many mental-health clinics and hospitals to count, in and out of too many homeless shelters to keep track, suffers from schizophrenia, the cruel and ruthless mental illness that threatens to completely shred a person’s pride and dignity.
“He’s not really living, but just floating,” Morgan Toles, Andrew’s sister, an assistant basketball coach at Florida State, tells USA TODAY Sports. “It’s almost zombie-like. I don’t know if he’ll ever get better. None of us do.
“But, at least, we’re not worrying whether he’s alive.’’
Toles was arrested last summer when he was found homeless, asleep behind a Fed Ex Building at the Key West International Airport in Florida. He has been in at least 20 mental health clinics since 2019, a year after leaving the Dodgers.
Now, Toles is back home in Fairburn, Georgia. He lives just around the corner from a man who gets up at 2 a.m. most mornings, hauls chemicals in his truck for a living, and never lets a day go by without making sure Toles is eating, taking his medication and is safe from his demons.
The man has been so distraught with worry, he sometimes cries himself to sleep, wanting so badly to make things right, but overwhelmed by a feeling of helplessness.
It’s Alvin Toles, Andrew’s dad.
Alvin Toles is a single father now, separated from his wife, with Toles’ mental illness fracturing the family, as he takes care of Andrew and 22-year-old daughter, Kasey.
“This has kind of torn my family apart, it’s worn on everybody,’’ Morgan Toles said. “I try not to think about it. It breaks my heart thinking about what my Dad is going through.
“He’ll call me and check in, and see what’s going on, and I’ll hear his voice crack. I’ve heard him cry more than I ever have in my life. He keeps saying, ‘Everything will be OK,’ and doesn’t want to burden me with anything, but I know he’s hurting.
“I worry about him, he’s carrying so much.’’
Alvin Toles, 58, who spent four years playing for the New Orleans Saints after starring at the University of Tennessee, concedes that he cries at times when no one is looking. He wants to stay strong for his family. If he fell apart, what would happen to his family? The medical expenses pile up, with a new $24,000 due in legal fees for a court-appointed lawyer that was no longer needed.
So, he prays. He prays for strength. He prays for guidance. And, of course, he prays for Andrew.
“I just want him to have a chance in life,’’ Alvin Toles softly says. “That’s all. Just to be healthy, live a normal life. I’d do anything for my son and my kids, and I know their mother cares a great deal, too.”
It was Alvin who got into his car the morning of Dec. 19, 2020, getting a tip that his son was wandering around the streets in West Palm Beach, Florida. He found him a day later, calling it a miracle from God.
Alvin Toles worked with attorney Audra Simovitch to gain legal guardianship over his adult son, assuring that Andrew would receive the best health care, and not be locked up in a state institute and simply heavily medicated with little chance of improvement.
Toles is traumatized by hospitals, his dad said, and refuses to step inside the doors. The mental-health clinics didn’t work either with Toles constantly fleeing when he felt he was healthy.
So, once Alvin Toles gained guardianship this past November, he was finally able to take his son back home, living just 50 yards apart from one another.
“I give Alvin a lot of credit for trying to help,’’ Simovitch says. “He’s dealing with a lot. I’ve seen a lot of families give up. It’s just too hard on them. Otherwise, Andrew might be like most people, and still wandering the streets.’’
Gwendale Boyd-Willis, 45, the goddaughter of Alvin and Vicky Toles who is a chaplain in the Atlanta area, says it’s difficult to describe the love Alvin has for his son. He takes Andrew out for meals. He’ll clean his house. Some days they’ll just silently sit together for hours. And they’ll pray.
“It’s heartbreaking to see this happen,” says Boyd, diagnosed with bipolar when she was 17. “Mental illness is just now getting the attention of people now when it should have been a long time ago. I can’t imagine what Alvin is going through as a parent. He’s been a phenomenal father.
“The strength it takes to go through all of this, it’s a wonder he hasn’t had a breakdown, because when it’s your child, that’s a lot of heavy weight and stress.’’
It’s Father’s Day on Sunday. Alvin Toles will go to church. He’ll see Andrew. He’ll have a barbeque with his stepfather. And he’ll see Andrew again before bed.
There likely will be more tears, too.
“We are having challenges,’’ Alvin Toles says, “but nothing that God and I can’t handle. Schizophrenia, it’s just so tough. I mean, he can’t even watch TV. He hears voices and the TV at the same time, so it’s kind of confusing. I’ve seen him looking at some baseball games on his laptop, but I don’t think he really understands what’s going on.
“I don’t think he understands that the Dodgers won the World Series.’’
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SOURCE: USA TODAY – Bob Nightengale