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Baker returns with renewed vigor, upbeat outlook

Health scare has Reds manager more appreciative of family, friends

ST. LOUIS -- The word that Dusty Baker kept coming back to was "blessed," as in, "I'm blessed."

The manager of the Cincinnati Reds had been in a Chicago hospital, first for an irregular heartbeat, and then, as he was about to be discharged from the hospital, he suffered a mini-stroke.

Many people would see this as not only a frightening set of circumstances, but also as a severely bad break. Baker had not, after all, been on hand for his club clinching the National League Central title, and had also not been present for Homer Bailey's no-hitter.

But when Baker returned to his managing role on Monday at Busch Stadium he looked fit, he sounded fine, and his perspective on life, which was always solidly positive anyway, was better than ever.

"I always had a pretty good perspective on things, but now it just makes me feel more appreciative of what I'm doing, it makes me more appreciative about my family, and I feel truly blessed," Baker said, in a pregame session in the Reds' clubhouse. "To be in the hospital when you have a mini-stroke, you know, you can't get any more blessed than that.

"The way I look at it, we had a great support staff here and my guys did a great job while I was out. Everybody's had a chance here to pick each other up this year. That's the kind of ballclub that we have here. So I feel truly blessed."

Baker was away from the club 12 days and missed 11 games. The combination of an irregular heartbeat and subsequent mini-stroke might be seen as a too-close-for-comfort glimpse of mortality by some, but Baker didn't see it that way.

"It wasn't scary," Baker said of the mini-stroke, "because I didn't feel like it was my time to go. When you go in the hospital, and you're leaving the hospital, it ain't your time to go, you know what I mean?

"I wasn't worried at all; I mean, I didn't like the fact that I was having a stroke. But at the same time, how many people have been in the hospital when they've had a stroke? It wasn't my time to go.

"I was on my way out of the hospital and I had just shaved. I was getting ready to put my clothes on. The lady stopped me, and asked me to say my name. I couldn't say my name and all of a sudden, she called the doctor back in and said: 'You've got to come back in and see him.' And I was like: 'Why?' She said: 'Well, you just better stay here.'

"Imagine, I could have been on a plane or on a highway, so that's why I said, 'Man, it ain't my time to go.'"

On missing the celebrations for the division clinching and the no-hitter, Baker said: "The way I figure, the big one's yet to come."

Baker appeared to be the picture of reasonably good health Monday. The manager said that he had lost 22 pounds while he was out. A few alterations have been made to his diet.

"I've already changed a few things in my routine," Baker said. "Mainly my daughter, she's having turkey burgers and couscous, she'd be proud of me telling you guys that I'm eating this stuff. I didn't cut out that much, but she's making me eat breakfast now, which I never ate. But I'm going to sneak down to my local watering spots to get some soul food."

As to the business at hand, the three-game series with the Cardinals has major import for both teams. The Cards are battling to maintain a lead for the second NL Wild Card spot, while the Reds are trying to secure home-field advantage throughout the postseason. Baker was asked if he had any additional motivation to knock the Cardinals out of a postseason berth. It is no secret that there was no love lost between Baker and former Cardinals manager Tony La Russa.

Baker had been smiling throughout much of this session, but his smile became even larger with this question.

"You answer that," he said.

The long-running Baker/La Russa argument dispute may not survive the change of management in St. Louis. Asked about his feelings toward Baker, current St. Louis manager Mike Matheny replied: "I like Dusty. I do."

Since leaving the hospital, Baker has thanked family, friends, fans, doctors and the whole Reds organization for their support. The team went 7-4 in his absence. He could be right. He may be blessed. But on the other side of it, both the Reds in particular and baseball in general have been blessed by getting Dusty Baker back, hale and hearty.

Mike Bauman is a national columnist for
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