Is That All There Is?

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by Tom DeMichael

The first month of the 2018 season is in the books. The talent-laden Cubs search for a way to break out from the pack of the NL Central. The young and eager White Sox, amid an exciting process of rebuilding, are buried in the AL Central.

And, in the big picture – all of that means exactly, squat.

Sox’ RHP Danny Farquhar went to work one day about a week and a half ago. Before the day was over, he was in intensive care with a life-threatening brain trauma. At that point, pennant races and launch angles are WAY down the list of things that matter.

Every day in the world, people are faced with varying degrees of mishaps and injury. By and large, they go unnoticed – except within the personal bubbles of those individuals.

It’s quite another situation to suffer a brain aneurysm in front of 14,000 people, with tens of thousands more watching on TV. That’s the kind of thing that draws attention.

Rushed to the hospital after collapsing in the dugout (also televised,) Farquhar was diagnosed with a rupture to an artery in his brain. Bleeding caused severe pressure on the brain, so doctors cut a hole in his skull to relieve that pressure.

Funny how a day can change quickly. You start out worrying about your ERA, and the next thing you know – you’re on a gurney, wondering if you’ll ever see your family again. Farquhar needed that injury like he needed a hole in the…never mind.

Ten days later, his condition has improved. He’s talking to family and teammates, taking short walks with his wife in the hospital hallway, and hearing about his three young children. But the road to recovery for Danny will be long. It’s hard to say if he’ll ever pitch again. Everyone can only hope for the best.

The once-bucolic game of baseball, still regarded by many as regarded as America’s pastime, is no stranger to trauma and unusual medical events. Hitters, standing the box, have had bones broken – fingers, wrist, hand, and sometimes the face – by an errant fastball. Pitchers, standing on the mound, have endured serious trauma from 100+ mph line drives to the head. Man-on-man contact has resulted in grotesque injuries, leaving limbs at impossible angles.

Farquhar’s brain hemorrhage is not the game’s first. First baseman John Olerud – of the Blue Jays, Mets, Mariners, Yankees, and Red Sox in the 80s through the 2000s – curiously wore a batting helmet at all times on the field, even when he wasn’t at bat. It was a potentially life-saving precaution.

In college, Olerud collapsed during an afternoon run on campus. Like Farquhar, he suffered a brain aneurysm that required surgery. John fully recovered, was drafted by Toronto, and went on to have a solid career. Twice an All Star and twice a World Series champ, Olerud hit a lifetime .295, with more than 250 home runs and 1,200 RBI. The odd sight of the helmeted first baseman puzzled thousands who saw him play – not knowing the backstory.

Dave Dravecky is a different story. A starting left-handed pitcher for the Giants and Padres in the 1980s, he was an All Star and had a fine lifetime ERA of 3.13. Dave’s story is pretty amazing.

Following the 1988 season, cancer was found in the deltoid muscle – covering the shoulder and upper arm – on his pitching side. Half the muscle was surgically removed and doctors urged a lengthy recovery before attempting a comeback.

Dravecky was determined to return, and did so – perhaps too soon. He was back in August of 1989, pitching eight innings for a win against the Reds. His next start was against the Montreal Expos. The sixty-sixth pitch was Dave’s last. Upon following through, his humerus bone snapped in two. Dravecky collapsed on the mound. The sound was heard throughout Montreal’s Olympic Stadium. A very private personal crisis unfolded in front of nearly 25,000 fans.

The arm and part of the shoulder were amputated. Relying on his faith, Dravecky recovered to become a motivational speaker. With wife Jan, Dave formed a non-profit organization called endurance.org, where they offer hope and support to those facing life challenges.

So, it’s not just a game with a bat and a ball and a glove. When successes and adversity take place before thousands of spectators, it can have dire outcomes, not unlike the Roman gladiators in the Coliseum.

Yet, it is “just a game.” For players like Danny Farquhar, playing catch with his kids far outweighs the importance of playing catch with Welington Castillo.

With good thoughts, hard work, and some luck, let’s hope Danny gets to do both.

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