For Kate Wedge, the fateful day started with an intuition.
Her husband, Eric, had not been quite himself since the Seattle Mariners returned from a road trip to Houston. Oh, the team was humming with six wins in a row, but Kate felt Eric seemed oddly sluggish – a little off, she would say later.
So Kate offered to drive Wedge to the ballpark that Monday, July 22, for the Mariners’ game against Cleveland, of all teams. The two had met in 2001 while Wedge was managing the Indians’ Class AAA team in Buffalo and were married in November 2002, thrusting her squarely into a baseball life.
Eric, at age 35, was hired as the Indians’ boy-wonder manager not long after. But never in his seven years in Cleveland, or two-plus years with the Mariners, could Kate remember ever driving her husband to the ballpark. Until that day, that is, when they bundled their two kids, Ava, 7, and Cash, 5, into the back and made the short journey to Safeco Field.
He thinks I’m a little psychic now, she said.
For manager Wedge, the typical business day for a 7 p.m. game starts around noon. To pass time before the first pitch, Kate drove back home and consumed herself in phone calls to plan an upcoming charity event. She didn’t notice her cellphone was blowing up around 4 o’clock, until she finally spied a missed call from Mariners pitching coach Carl Willis, one of Eric’s closest friends.
If Carl’s calling me during a workday, there’s something wrong, she said.
Standing at the batting cage, Wedge had felt dizzy, his condition quickly worsening as he was led off the field. Wedge was quickly taken off to the hospital via ambulance, where doctors eventually determined he had suffered a mild stroke.
This is the other side of Wedge’s ordeal, which kept him away from the dugout for 32 days and 27 games, and changed his life – and by extension, his family’s – forever.
This is Kate’s side of the story, which Wedge acknowledges is the most vivid account of his recovery. He was, after all, disoriented (though always conscious) in those early days, when even the slightest movement of his head was debilitating.
Even now, when Wedge shows signs of being overly rambunctious – and the happy ending to this story is he’s feeling better, and more energetic, than he has in years – Kate flashes back to those tense, frightening days at the hospital and gently dials him back.
I saw him laying there on the hospital bed, she said. He didn’t see himself. I worry – Mama Bear kind of comes out.
When Wedge left last week on his first trip since his return, Mama Bear naturally fretted.
I twisted the arms of a lot of the coaches and said, You’d better watch him and make sure my guy’s OK.’ So I get reports, she said with a smile. He’s been great. He saw the light a little bit. He’s taking it very seriously. He wants to be around for his kids, and he wants to be around for his family.
A seemingly endless battery of tests slowly led doctors toward a stroke diagnosis. Doctors told them it was a perfect storm of factors that led to the stroke, from cholesterol to blood pressure to stress to, significantly, a sleep apnea affliction the Wedges didn’t know he had. The condition prevents its sufferers from restful sleep and has been closely linked to strokes.
Wedge has also improved his diet and is exercising more regularly than he has in decades, she said. It’s not lifestyle changes; it’s lifetime changes for us.
But it was a slow process, one that required Wedge to watch Mariners games – managed by his interim replacement, Robby Thompson – from afar. That was an ordeal for Wedge, who had missed just one previous game – when Ava was born.
Sometimes he’d be playing with the kids, one eye on the TV, she said.
Kate believes Wedge has learned to listen to his body more, and to put some of the pressures of baseball into better perspective. But it’s a fine line, because Wedge’s passion and intensity have always been his calling card.
You can’t curb that, Kate said. That’s who he is, and that didn’t change at all.
In a perverse way, in fact, his health crisis can be perceived as a blessing, in that it motivated Wedge to make constructive changes. Kate certainly sees it that way, mindful that her husband’s love of baseball will always lead him back to the ballpark.
This is his life and his love and his passion, she said. Him not being in baseball I don’t think is an option, ever. I see him being very old and still at the ballpark.