Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Number was nearly up

Smith glad to be alive for honour from Fish

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The Winnipeg Goldeyes used to hold Donnie Smith's No. 21 until he was able to join the team at the end of the school year.

"They would hold that number, because I know that there were a number of guys that would request to have the number at the start of the season," said Smith. "They'd wait till the middle of June to hand it out to me."

But tonight, Smith's No. 21 will be put on permanent reserve as the team retires it for good before taking on the Kansas City T-Bones.

Just being at the ceremony was up in the air a couple months ago, as Smith discovered in March that he was suffering from undiagnosed heart ailments that led to a lengthy hospital stay and some trying times for the Smith family, reaching a height when Smith's heart stopped briefly.

"I've had a life-changing experience. After they brought me back, I think I was gone for about three to four minutes, they performed CPR and defibrillated or shocked me, and brought me back," said Smith, who now has a pacemaker and has been told to stay away from contact sports.

"I have a different perspective on life. I enjoy it a little bit more. For me, I was always very competitive, set in my own way, and stubborn, which I think was very good for me in terms of athletics. But I've taken a little more relaxed approach to life and enjoy it a little bit more."

Doctors discovered Smith had a bacterial infection in his heart. After antibiotics didn't stop his heart from deteriorating, Smith received an emergency bypass in early May.

Doctors also found that Smith has suffered since birth from Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome, a condition in which an extra electrical pathway to the heart allows current to reach the heart too soon, causing it to beat too fast.

"I was in the hospital for about a month and a half. I lost about 30 pounds," said Smith. "A couple cardiac arrests later, I managed to walk out of there.

"I'm getting stronger every day, and that's the main thing, so we'll see how that goes."

Smith is recovering at home with his family, including wife Tara, and sons Tyler, 6, and Colson, 3.

"I just want to be a good dad, be a good husband, watch my kids grow, hopefully coach them as long as I can until they get sick of me.

"Hopefully they show interest in what I have done with baseball, and pass it on, just like my father passed it on to me.

"It's unlikely I'll be able to play again," said Smith. "I'm able to play catch with my kids right now, so I'm happy."

As a relief pitcher, Smith would battle in any role to help the team win. While Smith recorded 28 saves in the spotlight as the closer, the Northern League's career appearances leader takes more pride in the down-and-dirty seventh and eighth innings.

"The role I fulfilled is a little bit harder sometimes, coming into a game situation where you may have guys on base with none out or bases loaded, two out," said Smith. "(As a closer), you're starting the ninth inning fresh with no inherited runners."

The grittier role was just practice for when Smith's life suddenly threw him into the bases-loaded, no-out situation with no room for error. The Smiths are calmly working out of the jam.

"I'm spending time with the family right now, puttering around the yard a little bit. I've got two boys that keep me busy. We're riding our bikes, going for walks, enjoying the summer."

Smith said that at if he had to decide today, he won't be returning to teach physical education at Garden City Collegiate in September, but hopes to come back to a classroom when his health allows it.

He estimates he'll need about a month after the summer vacation ends to build up strength.

"I think it'll be a bit of a struggle with my health condition right now coming back into the gymnasium," said Smith. "Physically, it's a little bit more demanding as a phys-ed teacher and I don't think I'd be able to handle it."

daniel.falloon@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 21, 2009 C1

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