IT WOULD have been so easy to make the wrong decision. The Orioles weregetting ready to return home from St. Petersburg, Fla., on Thursday night, andlongtime bullpen coach Elrod Hendricks just didn't feel right.
It would have been so easy to put him on the airplane and tell him to checkwith his physician Friday morning. It was only a two-hour flight, after all,and everybody was in a hurry to get home.
Except in the case of a stroke, the first three hours can be the differencebetween life and death, and something about the symptoms that Hendricksdescribed prompted Orioles trainer Richie Bancells to make one of the mostimportant decisions of his career.
"What he described, numbness in the side of his face and the fact that hewas slurring his words, those pretty much are the signs of a stroke," Bancellssaid yesterday. "Something was not right. Then it was a simple matter ofgetting on the plane or not getting on the plane."
Hendricks wanted to get on the plane, but Bancells told manager LeeMazzilli he and Elrod would be going to the hospital, instead.
There is a drug - a miracle drug, really - that can dynamically diminishthe long-term impact of a stroke, but only if it is administered within thefirst few hours after onset. Hendricks got it in time, but he probably wouldnot have if he had gotten on the plane and tried to make it home.
"I talked to [Hendricks' wife] Merle," said vice president of baseballoperations Mike Flanagan, "and she kept saying over and over that Richie savedhis life."
Flanagan knows how important those three hours can be, because he has seenthe unfortunate other side.
"I've known cases, even a family member who had that happen," he said. "Itwas not found for six hours, and now that person is wheelchair-bound andhandicapped."
Hendricks is improving, though more tests have to be performed today beforea decision is made on when he can return to Baltimore. The fact that he istentatively scheduled to come home tomorrow is another sign that Bancells'quick thinking made a huge difference.
"I guess I've always had the fear that something might happen on anairplane, which is not the best place to be when something happens," Bancellssaid. "You just react and do what you're trained to do ... and get it to thenext level of medical attention."
Sounds simple enough, but it isn't. Doing your job right isn't always aguarantee of the right outcome, as Bancells and assistant trainer Brian Ebellearned a couple of years ago in Fort Lauderdale.
When Steve Bechler collapsed after suffering heatstroke, they dideverything by the book, but the young pitcher died the next day - and youwouldn't be human if you didn't carry that kind of thing around with you for awhile.
It didn't help that the company that produced the ephedra-based dietsupplement that contributed to Bechler's death filed a countersuit against theOrioles and tried to place the blame on the Orioles' medical staff, buteveryone knew Bancells and Ebel did everything they could.
"We sent them a note of appreciation for their work on the Bechler case,"Flanagan said, "and now he [Bancells] is in line for another one."
If the job doesn't seem all that complicated, that's because you probablydon't have any idea what goes into being a certified athletic trainer. Itisn't just icepacks and ankle sprains. It's offseason seminars and continuingeducation classes and - maybe most important - the ability to think on yourfeet.
Bancells and Ebel have to stay up to speed on the treatment of a wide arrayof possible injuries and illnesses, while maintaining enough basic medicalknowledge to react correctly to just about any situation.
Bancells may never see another stroke, but when he saw the signs of oneThursday night, he acted decisively, and Hendricks' quality of life will bemuch better as a result.
"Richie's personal attention was absolutely incredible," said Orioles vicechairman Joe Foss. "He is truly one of the finest trainers in all ofprofessional sports."Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times