Koskie looking to make comeback
Third baseman recovering from post-concussion syndrome
PHOENIX -- It started so innocuously, with a highlight-reel play that he later laughed about. It has turned into Corey Koskie's living hell.
"I've played with broken bones in my hand," said Koskie, the Brewers veteran third baseman. "I've played hurt. You can't play through this."
For the past 7 1/2 months Koskie, 33, has suffered from post-concussion syndrome, the result of a July 5 play at Miller Park. He ranged for a foul pop and attempted a sliding, over-the-shoulder catch. He briefly gloved the ball but it popped up when his body snapped back to the turf, and shortstop Bill Hall plucked the baseball out of the air for the final out of the inning.
The crowd went wild, everybody had a good laugh and the play made every evening newscast. But for Koskie, who was initially diagnosed with a minor concussion, the fog was already starting to set in.
He became nauseous, dizzy, unaware. Koskie would wake up in the middle of the night feeling terribly sick, and wondered whether it was from effects of the concussion or just a bout of the flu or a reaction to something he ate. He would walk into an adjoining room and forget why he was there, bringing on the same doubts.
A post-All-Star break comeback was aborted and doctor's orders called for no television, no Internet, no books. Koskie felt constantly fatigued, to the point "it felt like someone was pulling my eyelids shut." He would reach for a bottle of ketchup at dinner and knock over his glass of water. He couldn't handle public situations with people he didn't know. He struggled to form complete sentences, and for a while he couldn't even utter the word "concussion." He tried to take his family to the Wisconsin State Fair, and made it halfway across the parking lot before returning to the car, overwhelmed, where he sat for three hours.
At one point, Koskie tried to watch a game with his teammates at Miller Park. He couldn't.
"That was frustrating," Koskie said. "It was like, 'How can I get sick just sitting in the dugout?' That was something I've done my whole life. Things you've been able to do your whole life without thinking about it, all of a sudden you can't do. You get sick."
Worst of all, he said, was that he couldn't play with his three young boys.
"They got sick of hearing me say, 'Daddy can't,'" Koskie said.
This went on for months. Koskie owns a lake house near Milwaukee, and spent his days sitting at the end of his dock, staring at the water.
"That's all I could do without producing my symptoms," he said. "I had constant pressure in my head."
"But," as he added Thursday at least a half dozen times, "I am getting better."
The Brewers hope so. Acquired in January 2006 from the Blue Jays, who footed the bill for most of the two years remaining on Koskie's contract (he will be a free agent following the 2007 season), Koskie batted .261 with 12 home runs in 76 games before his fall. He also served as a solid defensive player at third base.
He reported to Maryvale Baseball Park with a workout protocol from the University of Buffalo program that has had success treating concussed hockey players. This week, Koskie also visited Dr. Michael Collins, a specialist at the University of Pittsburgh who has treated former Giants catcher Mike Matheny.
"It's like, 'I'm not making this up,'" Koskie said.
Koskie will not participate when the Brewers hold their first full-squad workout on Saturday, and manager Ned Yost conceded Thursday that it is "highly doubtful" that Koskie will be ready for Opening Day.
"A timeframe? I don't know," Koskie said. "I've talked to a lot of guys who have been through this and they say the worst thing you can do is put a timeframe on it."
He continues to experience symptoms when he overexerts himself, and his workouts are limited to light sessions on the stationary bike. Once he hits a certain threshold, his symptoms start to "well up," and the setbacks can last for weeks. He said he can't push his heartbeat past 120 beats per minute.
"With these things, nobody knows what's going to happen," said Yost, who did insist that the team understands what Koskie is going through. "He may wake up tomorrow and all of a sudden, feel great. That's the mystery and the unknown factor in this thing. But it could be another two months.
"He could be a big part of our team, a very valuable part. But at least he will still be here and can lend his experience to these young guys in more of a verbal sense than a visual sense on the field. We move on."
Koskie says doctors have told him unequivocally that he will get better, and he said he plans to play this season. But the Brewers are already looking at Plan B.
Ryan Braun, Craig Counsell, Tony Graffanino and Vinny Rottino will get looks at third base for the Brewers, who have had internal discussions about free-agent third basemen and players potentially available later in camp via trades. For now, a Counsell-Graffanino platoon seems most likely, but Braun, the organization's top offensive prospect, will get every opportunity to impress.
"The big unknown in this whole equation is, 'What can Braun do?'" Yost said. "Can Braun handle it defensively? His hands are good enough. We're talking about smoothing out some areas of his game defensively.
"So is it real far-fetched that he might take it? Not that far-fetched. It's up to him."
Koskie, meanwhile, will to focus on his own health.
"I just want to play baseball again," he said, calling his recent struggles "what I've been going through my whole career. I'm a kid from Anola, Manitoba, playing baseball, you know? You deal with this and move on."
Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.