Padres bullpen coach Akerfelds dies at 50
Former Major League pitcher was in 11th season on club's coaching staff
SAN DIEGO -- Padres bullpen coach Darrel Akerfelds, the longest-tenured member of the coaching staff, lost his nearly two-year battle with pancreatic cancer on Sunday in Phoenix. He was 50.
Akerfelds, who was in his 11th season with the team in that role, hadn't been in uniform with the Padres since April 15 in Los Angeles.
He had, however, made visits to Petco Park to watch a pitcher throw a side session and visit with manager Bud Black and members of the coaching staff in recent months.
"He brought a tireless work ethic and compassion for baseball to the ballpark every day," Black said. "He was a loyal Padre to the end. Players and coaches were made better by Ak. He will be sorely missed, and what he brought to this organization will never be forgotten." Akerfelds is survived by his girlfriend, Julie, and son, Dalton.
"Ak was as much a Padre as anyone who ever wore the uniform, spending 16 years in the organization," said Padres president and COO Tom Garfinkel. "Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and the many people who were lucky enough to know him."
In October, following 11 months of chemotherapy, Akerfelds had surgery to determine if the tumor could be entirely removed, a procedure that has enhanced the survivability of pancreatic cancer patients.
But the doctors discovered that the tumor was entwined with the surrounding arteries, thus making it impossible to remove.
Still, Akerfelds pressed on during Spring Training.
"This winter, there were times when we wondered if he was going to be here," San Diego first-base coach Dave Roberts said in February. "But there was never a doubt in his mind.
"To see him be so selfless and keep the focus on the players and try to go about this thing as business as usual ... that's a real credit to him and his character. You see him today, and he is in a lot of pain and he's uncomfortable and sometimes he looks pretty tired -- and rightfully so. But he still doesn't want any of the attention to go to him. He wants to be here and show up for work."
Akerfelds remained upbeat and optimistic after his initial diagnosis and said during Spring Training in February that he was hopeful that there would eventually be a medical procedure to heal him, allowing him to get back to his work -- baseball.
"I saw a thing on technology this morning on some of the stuff that goes on with computers. You see how much things change in a year," Akerfelds said at the time. "That's my goal, just to maintain this until there's a medical procedure that can cure it.
"I know that it's out there coming. I don't know when. But I'm very optimistic that I can stay in this long enough to have something like that come along for me."
In November 2010, Akerfelds had surgery to repair a disc in his lower back. He was immediately put on pain medication, typical with such surgeries. But fewer than three weeks later, he said he went off the pain medication because it was causing him stomach problems.
"I tried to fight through it," Akerfelds said.
During a subsequent and unrelated trip to a dermatologist, Akerfelds was told he had jaundice, or yellowing of the skin.
"I went into the bathroom and the whites of my eyes were almost orange," Akerfelds said. "[The doctor] said I should get a blood test. I went to see my family doctor and after he got the results, he told me I should get to the emergency room."
It wasn't long thereafter when Akerfelds was referred to a gastrointestinal specialist, who eventually gave the diagnosis.
Akerfelds, a right-handed pitcher born in Denver who attended Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., was drafted by the Seattle Mariners in the first round of the 1983 First-Year Player Draft. He made his Major League debut with the A's in 1986 and went 9-10 with a 5.08 ERA in 125 games in parts of five seasons with the A's, Indians, Rangers and Phillies.
Akerfelds retired in 1995 after a 12-year professional playing career. He joined the Padres organization in 1997 as a coach for Class A Clinton and by 2001 was the pitching coach for Triple-A Portland. Akerfelds joined the Padres' staff as bullpen coach on June 11 of that season after Greg Booker assumed the role of pitching coach.
During his time with the Padres, Akerfelds -- who worked closely with pitching coach Darren Balsley -- helped shape a pitching staff that had a 3.66 ERA over his first 10 seasons, which ranks second in the Major Leagues over that span.
On May 16, the Padres named Jimmy Jones as the interim bullpen coach. Jones had been the pitching coach for Double-A San Antonio.