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12/23/10 9:00 AM EST
Uecker's holiday wish: Good health in 2011
By Adam McCalvy / MLB.com
MILWAUKEE -- Bob Uecker has an offseason home on a golf course in Scottsdale, Ariz., but he usually travels home to wintry Wisconsin for the holidays. Not this year. He's staying south this Christmas to rest up from heart surgery, so he's in good shape for the start of another Spring Training. "This is better for me," Uecker said. "I'll stay in the warm weather and get myself back, ready to work again." Make no mistake, Mr. Baseball plans to work in 2011. It will be Uecker's 41st year calling games for his hometown Milwaukee Brewers, and after a '10 in which he underwent three major surgeries and spent about three months of the baseball season in the broadcasters' wing of the disabled list, Uecker, who turns 75 on Jan. 26, plans to work a full schedule. In the wake of his health scares, he's looking forward to Spring Training more than ever. "It makes you appreciate things around you that you don't pay a lot of attention to normally," Uecker said. "It makes you appreciate your job. It makes you appreciate all of the guys who worked on me and all of the great baseball fans who say they want you back. "There's no way I'm going to quit. I wouldn't know what the heck to do. I feel good. When I start slobbering, then it will be a different story. They won't have to tell me when to quit. I'll know." Uecker has been calling games for his hometown Brewers since 1971, and only twice has he missed a significant chunk of games. The first absence came in '91, when Uecker spent about five weeks recovering from surgery to repair two abdominal aortic aneurysms. That was nothing compared to 2010, when Uecker had part of his pancreas removed in a cancer scare and underwent two open-heart surgeries. He spent so much time at Milwaukee's Froedtert Memorial Hospital that he started to feel like a staff member. "I've since joined the board there," he joked. The trouble actually started late in the 2009 season, when Uecker was at Wrigley Field calling a Brewers-Cubs series. He always jokes that the beauty of calling baseball games on the radio was that you can make things up and nobody knows the difference. It wasn't quite so funny when it actually happened. "I lost my vision. I couldn't see anything for about 15 seconds," Uecker said. "I was doing the play-by-play, and all of a sudden, everything went blank." That scare led to a series of tests that revealed some concerns about diabetes and a leaky heart value that would have to be monitored, but even more concerning were the tumors discovered on Uecker's pancreas in January. He met with cancer specialists the following day and underwent surgery. Uecker told only his closest friends about the cancer scare, but when his heart problem grew worse in April, it became, as he put it, "world news." The Brewers' season had begun and Uecker's absence would have to be explained, so he hosted a news conference at Miller Park alongside his physician, Dr. Jim Kleczka, before going back under the knife. In a seven-hour procedure, a surgical team led by Dr. Alfred Nicolosi replaced Uecker's aortic valve, his aortic root and part of his ascending aorta. They also performed a coronary bypass on one vessel that Uecker said was 80 percent blocked. Uecker subsequently developed a staph infection that delayed his return to the broadcast booth until late July. In October, he needed another seven-hour surgery to repair a tear at the base of his aorta caused by the infection. Uecker remained in Milwaukee until the day before Thanksgiving, when he migrated south to Scottsdale to recover. "Oh boy," he said, "this was a tough one. It was very, very serious." The outpouring of well wishes was overwhelming. "Unbelievable," Uecker said. "You don't realize how much you become a part of people's everyday lives. You can't imagine the cards and the letters from all over the country, from overseas. I could never begin to thank people enough for what they've done. The nurses who cared for me. Everybody was just unbelievable." He's choking up now, so it's time to move along. Uecker was feeling particularly spry when reached on his cell phone in Scottsdale last week. He had been to the doctor that morning, and things were looking good in his recovery. Uecker was cleared to resume two of his favorite activities just after Christmas, and he couldn't wait to get back into the pool and out on the golf course. "Up until then, all I can do is walk," Uecker said last week. "That's what I'm doing right now. I'm out here walking with all of the other old farts." Soon enough, he'll be walking the grounds at Maryvale Baseball Park, the Brewers' Spring Training home. Uecker is prepared for the usual slate of spring games and then all 162 regular-season games. Uecker never signed a contract when Commissioner Bud Selig owned the Brewers, and he still doesn't today. But he speaks often to Brewers principal owner Mark Attanasio and has already committed to next season. First, though, Uecker has to rest up. Instead of traveling home for the holidays, he'll decorate his place in Scottsdale and make sure to have some presents under the Christmas tree. "I'll wrap up some old tennis shoes," he cracked. "It'll be real nice."