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Andre Dawson is seeing the effects of the novel coronavirus pandemic from a vantage point many sports fans would not expect of a Baseball Hall of Famer and former National League MVP.

The longtime star for the Montreal Expos and Chicago Cubs has spent the past dozen years as a mortician.

While running his own funeral parlor, Dawson has recently had to shorten services at his facility’s chapel and limit them to no more than 10 people.

“It’s very sad,” he said Thursday to the Associated Press. “It’s very sad. Because people mourn and grieve differently and they’re not getting through that process as they would under normal circumstances. You see a lot of hurt and pain.”

Andre Dawson shows emotion while wearing Montreal Expos apparel as he is honored by the Washington Nationals in 2010. (Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP)
Andre Dawson shows emotion while wearing Montreal Expos apparel as he is honored by the Washington Nationals in 2010. (Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP)
Dawson, 65, has owned and operated Paradise Memorial Funeral Home in his hometown of Miami since 2008. A few years after he retired from baseball in 1996, he joined a group of investors his brother organized to buy a different funeral home, then took an even bigger step into the business.

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Dawson did not expect to actually run Paradise Memorial, but “that role sort of fell into my lap,” he told AARP last year. With the same dedication to his craft that enabled a 21-year major league career, Dawson “threw myself into it, body and soul,” despite the unlikely nature of his new line of work.

“Growing up, I could have never envisioned this,” he told the Associated Press. “I was actually afraid of the dead when I was a kid. When it came to funeral homes and seeing someone in a casket, it would remind me of being young and going to see a real scary horror movie and not being able to sleep at night. That’s where I was. But you grow and change with the times.”

Since March, the coronavirus has brought change to nearly every facet of American life. Social distancing — which has brought baseball and other sports to a standstill — has helped slow the spread of covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, but its toll has nevertheless been devastating, with over a million cases and at least 62,560 deaths in the United States as of Friday.

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There have been more than 12,000 confirmed cases in Miami-Dade County, which has had the highest death count, 352, of any county in Florida (per the Miami Herald). Dawson’s funeral home has handled six deaths from covid-19, and he has talked to his two dozen employees about the possibility of that number greatly increasing.

“It’s stressful because of the times and the uncertainty,” Dawson told the AP. “But this is what we signed up for. As challenging as it can be, we just pray and hope we’re prepared for it.”

Despite his fame and stature from his baseball career, Dawson has immersed himself in the day-to-day operations of his funeral home, for which his wife of 42 years serves as office manager. He goes to homes to pick up the deceased, drives hearses, carries caskets and, as shown in a 2018 USA Today profile, even mops the floor.

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These days, Dawson is doing his work while wearing a mask. That has a limiting effect on how many people recognize the tall man helping with their funeral arrangements, but he said his focus is on the needs of those around him.

“You never know where God is going to lead you,” Dawson told USA Today, “but wherever it leads you, you have to be prepared. When this first fell into my lap, I prayed on it. I thought, ‘How am I really going to pull this off without having the background or knowing anything really about the industry?’ But I wanted to make this as good a facility as I possibly could, and I’m proud of it. It’s important to me because this is a product the community needs.”

Andre Dawson, 65, has owned and operated Paradise Memorial Funeral Home since 2008. (Wilfredo Lee/AP)
Andre Dawson, 65, has owned and operated Paradise Memorial Funeral Home since 2008. (Wilfredo Lee/AP)
If Dawson did not know the value of hard work before he embarked on his major league career, he certainly learned it while rebounding from more than a dozen knee surgeries that eventually sapped the athleticism of the player known as “The Hawk.” During his early seasons with the Expos, who played on a notoriously unforgiving surface at Olympic Stadium, he was the epitome of a five-tool player and is just one of five players in major league history with at least 400 home runs and 300 stolen bases, alongside Willie Mays, Barry Bonds, Alex Rodriguez and Carlos Beltrán.

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