Brocail is now healthier, and wiser
After scary angioplasty last March, pitcher lives life differently
PEORIA, Ariz. -- The symptoms were everywhere. Doug Brocail realizes as much now.
But they're not symptoms if you don't recognize them as such, as was the case with Brocail a year ago this week.
There was numbness in his chin, though the 39-year-old reliever was convinced that it was nothing more than the manifestation of 30 years of tobacco use.
There was tightness in his chest and labored breathing, though Brocail said that was something akin to the asthma he had as a child or just the residual effects of the infected tooth he had removed a week earlier.
As for the agonizing pain he felt in his left shoulder and arm when he sneezed, well, he simply had no answer for that.
And even though there was a history of heart disease in his family, Brocail wasn't about to admit himself or others there might be something wrong with him -- even when these symptoms conspired to bring him to the verge of a massive coronary event.
No, these seemed to be nothing more than just a string of abnormal circumstances, ones that Brocail thought he had plausible excuses for.
"Broke is one of those guys who can be hard-headed at times," Padres general manager Kevin Towers said on Wednesday from Tempe, Ariz., where the Padres faced the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.
Finally, Brocail couldn't ignore the signs, these symptoms anymore.
On March 7, 2006, while pitching against the Giants in a just another spring game, Brocail couldn't catch his breath after covering first base on a ground ball to the right side of the infield.
"That's when it hit me," Brocail said. "I remember I had to cover first base on two balls to the right side. I remember after going over to first base, telling the umpire that if I croak to make sure they paddle me. He didn't think it was funny."
Neither would Brocail, who was already using an inhaler to help him breath easier at this point. But not even that could help him catch his breath. That's when he started to worry, as did the team.
"I got to the dugout and couldn't breathe," Brocail said. "It took about 20 breaths to open my airway" even with the inhaler. And so trainer Todd Hutcheson "told me to get in my car, cleats and all, and get to Cardiac Solutions."
That was the start of a chain of events that eventually led to the first of two angioplasty surgeries for Brocail on March 11 to open the narrowed blood vessels of his heart. The surgery was performed at Boswell Memorial Hospital in Sun City, as he watched it all on a nearby video screen.
Brocail scrambled to tell his wife, Lisa, what was happening, though he wasn't exactly too forthright with information. The hardest part, he said, was telling his five daughters.
"The first one, it wasn't difficult telling my wife because I didn't tell her everything I was supposed to tell her," Brocail said. "I think the team got a hold of her and told her that it was more serious than I had told her. The toughest part was telling my daughters. It was a rough go, trying to explain to them Daddy's heart was in rough shape. There was a lot of crying."
On April 10, Brocail had a second angioplasty, this time at Scripps Green Hospital in La Jolla, Calif. Three months later, amazingly, he was back pitching for the Padres.
"I've been good ever since," Brocail said Wednesday, hours before throwing a scoreless inning against the Angels. "I've got clean pipes. I'm a lucky man."
Brocail returned to the field in July and appeared in 25 games, posting a 4.76 ERA. His return surprised a lot of teammates and even his general manager, who certainly wasn't expecting such a speedy return after two complicated surgeries.
"It's pretty amazing that he was out there pitching competitively," Towers said. "... To be able to come back after not only one surgery but two surgeries ... that's pretty incredible. He's got a lot to be thankful for."
Brocail agrees, which is why he's treating his body much better than before. He estimates that he takes 26 pills a day and has become something of a health nut.
"I started reading labels, paying attention to saturated fats, sugars, calories," Brocail said. "I can cheat a little on the medication ... but I can't cheat as far as the sugars and the fats. All I do is eat healthy."
The outpouring of support that Brocail received from his teammates and the front office still amazes him to this day. Several players stopped by to visit him during his six-day stay at the Boswell Memorial Hospital. He'll never forget that.
"He's got a great spirit about him," Padres reliever Scott Linebrink said of his friend. "He's got a great drive. Everyone, when it happened, thought he might be done [pitching]. ... I said if anyone is going to fight through that and come back, it's probably him."
Corey Brock is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.