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Mound legend recuperating

Smith's recovery adds to Fish camp's good cheer

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AND on the second day, the news from Win­nipeg Goldeyes spring training -- on and off the field -- was good.

First came word from the wife of former Gold­eyes pitcher Donnie Smith that the iron-man hurler is on the mend at St. Boniface Gen­eral Hospital -- albeit slowly -- after emergency open­heart surgery last week.

"It's definitely been a frightening experience, that's for sure," Tara Smith said Sat­urday. "He's slowly becoming the Donnie we all know again.

But it will definitely be a long, long recovery.

"It's been overwhelming. And it happened so quickly. It's scary. But things are better and Don­nie is recovering."

With that piece of good news about a former player, attention Saturday afternoon turned to future Goldeyes, who worked out at Canwest Park before a good-sized crowd that assembled for the Goldeyes' annual open house.

And after two days of looking at a revamped Goldeyes squad that was blown up in the off-season and boasts just six returnees this spring, Fish skip­per Rick Forney likes what he sees so far.

"Everything's looking good. No one's injured yet.

Things are coming together," said Forney.

A total of 27 players are competing to be part of what will be a 22-man roster when the Fish open their regular season May 15 in Kansas City against the T-Bones.

One of those players will almost certainly be newly acquired slugger Juan Diaz, formerly of the Joliet JackHammers, who likes what he sees in Winnipeg so far and turned some heads on Friday by smoking four straight home runs over the left­field fence during batting practice.

"It usually takes me one month to get 100 per cent," Diaz said. "But my swing is good. I'm mak­ing good contact. And I like the ballpark. It's nice and the fans here love the team. I'm happy I'm not on the other side anymore."

Tara Smith said that a sudden bout of severe chest pains in mid-March led to the discovery that her husband had serious heart problems he never knew he had.

First, there was the revelation that Smith, 35, has suffered since birth from Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome, a condition that causes the heart to beat too fast and can cause everything from chest pain to shortness of breath and fainting.

On top of that, doctors found Smith suffers from a heart murmur and had an irregular aortic valve. And then, Tara Smith says, there was the most serious of revelations -- that Smith was suffering from a serious bacterial infection in his heart.

He was admitted to hospital in early April and the plan was to treat the condition with antibiot­ics. But Smith's heart continued to deteriorate to the point doctors would wait no longer and he was rushed into surgery on Monday.

Tara Smith said what doctors found inside Smith's heart was disturbing. "There was more damage to the heart than they anticipated" from the infection, Smith said.

Smith said the family gives full credit to heart surgeon Dr. Edward Pascoe and a battery of nurs­es and assistants who have been by the player's side as the slow recovery begins.

Smith says her husband is alert and hoping to go home as early as next week, where he will take part in a recovery program expected to last three to four months.

She says the couple has one firm goal -- that Smith walk out onto the field at Canwest Park on July 21, when he will become just the second Goldeyes player ever to have his number retired.

"We've joked that I'm not pushing him out there in a wheelchair onto the field," Smith said.

paul.wiecek@freepress.mb.ca

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