For Vasquez, Christmas miracle comes month early
Left-hander recovering after undergoing emergency brain surgery in November
Vasquez, who started seven games for Seattle at the end of the 2011 season, can only marvel now at how well things have turned out since his doctor looked him in the eye and told him he didn't know how he was still alive.
After suffering headaches and a loss of vision while rehabilitating his injured shoulder in mid-November at the Mariners facility in Peoria, Ariz., Vasquez underwent a flurry of medical maneuvers that resulted in a 5 1/2-hour surgery to remove a ruptured blood vessel among a tangled mass in his brain.
A recent MRI test showed recovery has gone so well that doctors tell Vasquez he can now resume working out. The 26-year-old hopes to be at Spring Training when the Mariners' Minor Leaguers report in March.
"I just continue to count my blessings," Vasquez said. "It was just one whirlwind after another. Looking back, you see how all these things happened so I was in the right place at the right time. I don't know what to tell you. You just bow to the one that is in control and say, 'You've got me.' I'm just thankful."
Vasquez said if he'd had his way, he certainly wouldn't have been in Peoria at that point, dealing with a frustrating shoulder issue that cut short his season with Triple-A Tacoma. But as fate would have it, he was working with trainers who sent him immediately to see a doctor.
That led to tests that revealed the dangerous mass in his brain, an arteriovenous malformation (AVM). Soon after, he was on the table at St. Joseph's Hospital in Phoenix, undergoing surgery by Dr. Robert Stetzler, one of the leading neurologists in the country.
"He's like the rock star of neurologists," Vasquez said. "He was leaving for China two days later. And I was in a place where people were looking out for me 24/7. They got me right to the doctor and everything just happened. It was just a million situations that you look back on, and it's unbelievable."
Vasquez said he has regained full vision in his eye. His head feels fine. He's grown tired of playing video games and is ready to test his shoulder, which he says likely benefited from the forced time off.
"I'm slowly easing back into things," he said. "With this time off, I've pretty much had the normal offseason that any player typically would, about a month to relax and have my own time. It wasn't really me relaxing, in this case, but it was recovery. Now I'm able to get going and I plan on being just as ready as any previous Spring Training."
The biggest uncertainty Vasquez has doesn't regard his brain, but his throwing shoulder.
"I was maybe 2-3 weeks from finishing up my rehab and this happened," he said. "So I don't know. We'll see. I haven't picked up a ball since. I'm hoping this rest was another good thing, a blessing. At some point, I'll see how it feels. Your guess is as good as mine as to whether it'll be great or a real bummer."
But Vasquez, who graduated from USC with a degree in policy planning and development, isn't one to let life get him down, no matter what happens next. As the son of Angels area scout Rudy Vasquez, he understands baseball. As a person of strong faith, he believes things happen for a reason.
And as a young man who was told he probably should have died five weeks ago, Vasquez appreciates more than ever what it means to have time with family and friends this holiday season.
"It's really a special thing, for sure, just having people there for you and people that love and care for you," he said. "You can't really thank them enough. I can't tell you how much that means to me."
He appreciates as well the calls of support he's received from Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik and manager Eric Wedge and well wishes from others in the organization.
And when Vasquez gets back to Arizona this spring, he says the people at St. Joseph's Hospital have already told him that Dr. Stetzler wants him to see him.
"He's the one who said, 'You should be dead. Your arteries ruptured in your head two days ago,'" Vasquez said. "He was baffled, even though he does this stuff all the time. They want me to do something with him when I get back to Peoria. I'm not sure what, but I know this. I'll probably give him a big freakin' hug."