In a spring
training game against the San Francisco Giants on March 7, Doug Brocail needed
only seven pitches to retire three batters. Though he was hitting a crisp 90
mph on the radar gun, the San Diego Padres reliever knew something was wrong.
"It looked easy, but everything was exhausting," the 39-year-old
Brocail said last week while sitting in the home dugout at PETCO Park.
"When I came into the game, I was running but had to stop halfway and walk.
Then, when it was over, I barely made it to the dugout."
Brocail, in fact,
hadn't felt right all winter, but he never suspected it had anything to do with
his heart. The burning sensation in his shoulder when he sneezed? Probably an
allergic reaction to the family's cats. Winded after only two 10-yard sprints?
Likely his asthma acting up. The heaviness he felt in his chest? Perhaps a side
effect of the medication he was taking for an infected tooth.
After the March 7
game, Padres trainer Todd Hutcheson and team doctor Harry Albers ordered
Brocail to take a stress test on a treadmill, which the pitcher failed. Albers
then injected a dye into Brocail that on X-rays revealed a 99% blockage in the
left anterior descending artery. Albers told Brocail that he could drop dead at
any moment and instructed him to rush to Boswell Memorial Hospital in Sun City,
Ariz., near the Padres' spring training site. The player teammates call Broke
heeded the order but only after a detour to his apartment to fetch his
cellphone charger. "Typical Broke," says Hutcheson. "That's why my
job can be hard."
Four days later
Dr. Manoj Rawal inserted a small balloon to expand and clear the blocked
artery, then inserted a stent to keep it open. "When it was closed, it
looked like the end of a shoelace, like nothing could get through," says
Brocail, who watched the procedure on a monitor. "After the blockage was
cleared, I felt a warmness all over my body."
however, was not over. He opened the season on the disabled list, but after
watching the Padres get swept by the Colorado Rockies in the first week, he
complained of chest pains to a friend, who insisted that he check into Scripps
Green Hospital outside San Diego. Doctors told Brocail that he needed a second,
more complex angioplasty, one that would eventually require the insertion of
After the second
procedure, doctors at Scripps Green debated whether Brocail could ever pitch
again. Athletes had run marathons after an angioplasty, but returning to play
baseball was another matter. One concern was that Brocail could get hit in the
head by a batted ball. The blood thinners he has had to take after the
angioplasties might prevent his blood from clotting properly should he suffer
internal bleeding. "There was some talk of him wearing a helmet,"
through two Tommy John surgeries, numerous elbow clean-outs, so I saw this as
just another thing," says the insouciant Brocail, who has made 10 trips to
the disabled list in his 12 seasons as a major leaguer. "I told the doctors
that an injury to my arm might knock me out of the game, but not this."
eventually consented, and on July 14 Brocail returned to the mound, against the
Atlanta Braves. "I stepped out of the bullpen and my heart was pumping and
I felt great," he says. His fastball hit 93 mph as he retired all three
batters he faced, two on strikeouts. Through Sunday he was 2--0 with a 5.11 ERA
in 12 1/3 innings. "He's been great for us," manager Bruce Bochy says.
"He's changed his lifestyle, his diet and no more tobacco [which he had
chewed for 25 years]. But otherwise he's the same ol' Broke."
The surest sign
that Brocail is in the pink is that his teammates are teasing him about his
heart. "When he comes out of the bullpen, we yell, 'Get the defibrillator
ready,'" says pitcher Scott Linebrink.
Brocail hopes to
pitch next year and beyond before he retires to Houston with his wife, Lisa,
and their five daughters (ages five to 16). "Every angel up there was
looking after me or I would be dead," he says. "But now I got new pipes
and I feel great and I want to keep pitching."