SEATTLE — A slimmer, relaxed-looking Eric Wedge returned to the first day of the rest of his career vowing to remain in control.
Of his job managing the Mariners again, but also of his life. Wedge vividly recalled the day he lost control a month earlier, suffering what a stroke while watching the team take batting practice.
“I really wasn’t scared,” Wedge told media members before Friday night’s game. “I was confused. Something overtook my body that I didn’t have any control over. It was the first time I felt like I’d lost control. First, in my head, then in my legs. Then the eyesight comes into play.”
Now that he’s back in control, managing the team Friday night in a 2-0 loss to the Los Angeles Angels, Wedge insisted he’ll do anything required to stay that way. And that includes altering the way he handles some of his tasks, saying he needs to avoid the all-consuming, stress-inducing approach he previously took with relatively minor endeavors.
“I think I’ve got one hell of a reminder now,” Wedge, 45, said of his need to curb his perfectionist tendencies. “I’ve got a great reference point here. I did not like not being in control. And I didn’t have it there for a couple days. And that’s one hell of a scary feeling.”
So, he’ll force himself not to sweat the small stuff as much. There’s only so much in-game stress a manager can control, like the frustration of Felix Hernandez throwing six innings of three-hit ball, only to have one of them drilled over the left-field wall by Chris Nelson for a two-run homer in the second inning.
A crowd of 21,616 at Safeco Field saw the Mariners limited to four hits by Angels starter Garrett Richards, who got double-play grounders to end the fifth, sixth and seventh innings. He then got the first out of the eighth inning on a grounder that struck him on the right forearm as it went by.
Richards left the game from there with a contusion, but the Angels’ bullpen got the final five outs to preserve his victory. Seattle fell nine games under .500, three below where they were July 22, when Wedge suffered the stroke and bench coach Robby Thompson took over.
Wedge said the in-game part is actually the most fun aspect of managing. It’s the stuff before and after he wants to obsess over less.
“See it for what it is and handle it accordingly,” he said. “You can’t do everything. I do a good job of delegating and I don’t believe in micromanaging, but having said that, I’ve always felt strong about taking care of those around me. Whether it be on or off the field, professionally or personally.”
But some of the best advice he received the past month, from among thousands of well-wishers, was to take care of himself first.
“That will allow you to take care of others,” he said.
Part of that involved Wedge finally getting help for sleeping troubles that plagued him for years. He was diagnosed with sleep apnea, which had been reducing his oxygen intake and created the conditions for his stroke to occur.
Wedge now wears a special mask to help him sleep longer, and he feels better than in years. And he wants to maintain that, regardless of stresses he knows are waiting once he’s back in the swing of daily managing.
He’ll pay more attention to his body now. Wedge described his frustration the day he suffered the stroke, how his anger grew as he was wheeled from the clubhouse to an ambulance in a gurney, then to a hospital.
“Every step we took further, I got a little bit more upset,” he said. “Because I didn’t want that to happen. But then when I got to the doctor, in the hospital, I knew it was a pretty serious thing.”
And the doctors at Harborview Medical Center drove that point home repeatedly the three days that followed.
“I never would have thought that I’d be able to slow myself down,” Wedge said. “But when the doctor looks you in the eye and says, ‘Slow yourself down or else,’ you know he’s not joking about it.”
Wedge addressed his players before batting practice Friday and told them how much he’d missed them.
“There’s a difference throughout the whole clubhouse when he’s here,” Mariners first baseman Justin Smoak said. “What he expects from us, the work that he puts in. He expects a lot from us.”
Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik had dinner Wednesday with Wedge, then spent Thursday morning working with him.
“He looks great,” Zduriencik said. “It’s good to see him. I think he’s in good spirits. He’s refreshed and ready to roll.”
And determined to stay that way, in better control.
“I’m not the first manager to go through some type of sickness, but this is rather unique, I guess,” Wedge said. “I’m pretty sure I was the youngest guy in that stroke ward, I’ll tell you that much. But again, I look at everything as, this all happened for a reason. I’m going to be a better man and a better professional than before this.”