Eric Wedge looked different from the last time he was in a Seattle Mariners uniform.
It wasn’t the clean-shaven face. It wasn’t the fresh haircut or the 10 to 15 pounds he has lost.
The difference was simple: He looked healthy.
After 32 days and 27 games away while recovering from a mild stroke, an energized Wedge was back in the dugout, managing his Mariners with a new perspective on life and baseball.
“I’ve been looking forward to it,” he said before Friday’s game. “I had this as a goal to try to get back by today. I feel great. I feel better than I have in 10 or 15 years.”
It’s the opposite of how he felt July 22 at Safeco Field, just a few hours before the Mariners were going to play the Cleveland Indians. Wedge started feeling dizzy and weak.
“Something overtook my body that I didn’t have any control over,” he said. “It was the first time I felt I’d lost control. First my head, then my legs and then the eyesight comes into play. I called Rick Griffin (Mariners trainer) over first and started talking to him and knew something was wrong. Then it was just about trying to get off the field. I didn’t want to make a big to-do about it. Rob Nodine (Mariners assistant trainer) came over, and they got me over to the field, at least to the steps. By the time I got to the steps, I was pretty much dead weight.”
Wedge was rushed to Harborview Medical Center by ambulance.
“They got me on the gurney and to the hospital,” he said. “Every step we took further, I got a little more upset because I didn’t want that to happen. Then when I got to the hospital, I knew it was a pretty serious thing. We didn’t really find out until the next day exactly what it was. By mid-afternoon, we knew the diagnosis.”
In what Wedge called the “perfect storm” of physical conditions, the 45-year-old had suffered a mild stroke.
“(The doctor) said ‘mild stroke,’ but still that word gets your attention,” Wedge said. “Pretty sure I was the youngest guy in that stroke ward, I can tell you that much.”
Since then, Wedge has had to rest and undergo a battery of tests. He also was diagnosed with a sleeping disorder.
“I’ve never been a big sleeper,” he said. “I’ve been doing a lot of research on this. I mentioned that perfect storm, well, this was a big part of that perfect storm in regards to what happened to me.”
Wedge underwent a sleep study, and the results were striking.
“Typically you are supposed to be in the 96 to 98 percent oxygen range when you are sleeping,” he said. “I was down to 80 percent, if not below. And that’s to your heart and to your brain, and affects you the entire day. It doesn’t allow your body to catch up.”
Wedge now wears a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) mask attached to a machine.
“I’ve slept better than I ever have,” he said. “For all you people out there that scuttle sleeping, you might want to take heed of that.”
Wedge’s quick recovery has allowed him to fully return to his job.
“I’ll be here for the duration,” he said. “I’m the manager, so I’m going to be back in charge. From my standpoint, I just have to monitor myself. I’m in uncharted waters here, but I wouldn’t be back here if I didn’t feel I was ready to be back here. The fact of the matter is, they wouldn’t let me back here if they didn’t think I was ready.”
Not once in all of this did he ever think he wouldn’t manage again.
“I didn’t feel like I was going to be out this long,” he said. “They talk about anywhere from 3-6 months in regard to recovery, but I didn’t consider that.”
Still, Wedge swears this return isn’t premature.
“And it’s not like I’ve been going crazy to try to get back,” he said. “I’ve been following the rules and doing what I need to be doing. They made it very clear; they marched them in there one by one before I left the hospital to let me know just how serious this was and how serious I needed to take this. It’s a shot across the bow. It’s a mulligan. It’s a heads-up. And I’m taking it as such.”
But Wedge can’t — and won’t – hide from his personality.
“Listen, I live my life with a great deal of passion, and I believe in that,” he said. “I love my family to no end. They’re the No. 1 priority to me, my wife and two kids. And I love this game and respect this game so much. I feel so strong about this organization. I’ve put my heart and soul into this thing, as have so many others, but at some point in time, you have to take a step back and take care of yourself. And that’s what I’m going to do a better job of.”
Wedge must listen to his body when it tells him it needs to sit down and rest. He’s also forcing himself to stop dwelling on insignificant matters and allowing them to become significant.
“The stresses that come your way you can’t control, but how you handle that is another thing,” he said. “It’s not so much in-game. The in-game stuff is the most fun part of your day when the game is going on. But the before and after the game and how you handle certain things: If it’s a 2 on a scale of 10, you don’t need to ramp it up to a 5 on a 10, or if it’s a 5, you don’t need to ramp it up to an 8 on a 10. See it for what it is, and handle it accordingly.”
Wedge didn’t believe slowing down was possible until now.
“When the doctor looks you in the eye and says, ‘Slow yourself down or else,’ you know he’s not joking about it,” he said. “And then the next doctor comes in and says the same thing, and the next doctor comes in, you know. I think when you have intensity and passion, and you care so damn much — to a fault maybe — and you’re doing that all day long, eventually it’s going to catch up to you. I think that’s where it ended up with me.”
If he ever needs a reminder, he only needs to think of that awful feeling July 22, the dizziness, his whole life spinning out of his control.
“I’ve got a great reference point here,” he said. “I did not like not being in control, and I didn’t have it there for a couple days, and that’s one hell of a scary feeling.”
He believes it has changed him for the better.
“I look at everything as, this all happened for a reason,” he said. “I’m going to be a better man and a better professional for this.”