PDA

View Full Version : Dreaming the Big League Dream, Again



paulrichjr
04-05-2007, 08:58 PM
http://www.nytimes.com/2007/04/05/sports/baseball/05reds.html?_r=1&ref=sports&oref=slogin

Josh Merwin for The New York Times

Two batters were due up ahead of him, but Carson Kainer had a batting helmet on and a bat in his hands. That is how eagerly Kainer awaited his first intrasquad game at-bat as a Cincinnati Reds minor leaguer, his first walk to the plate in more than nine months.

Carson, playing for the Reds this spring, collected his first hit and R.B.I. on March 23.
His red uniform top and white pants hid the fist-sized lump on his right hip and the surgical scar across his abdomen. Occasionally, Kainer said, another player notices the scar and asks about it. Then he shares his remarkable story.

Last Sept. 12, Kainer had a kidney transplant. His father, Ron, was the donor. Kainer, 22, is believed to be the first person to play professional baseball with a transplanted kidney. One would never know it by looking at Kainer, a strapping 6-foot-1 outfielder with a blacksmith’s thick forearms.

Kainer is at least the third American to play professional sports after a kidney transplant, joining the N.B.A. players Sean Elliott and Alonzo Mourning. A United States Olympic curler, Mike Peplinski, delayed a transplant to compete in the 1998 Winter Games.

Kainer learned he needed the transplant two weeks after the Reds chose him in the 14th round of the draft last June, and the day before he was set to sign a contract.

The surgery went well, the Reds remained interested and Kainer signed a contract in October.

Dr. Eileen D. Brewer, the chief of renal service at Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston, who has treated Kainer since he was a child, said: “Transplant patients can have a normal life. Part of his normal life is baseball.”

Kainer’s parents, Kristi and Ron, flew here from Tomball, Tex., to see Kainer play right field in his first intrasquad game March 22. Ron, wearing the gold watch his son gave him after the surgery, rooted pitch by pitch as he drew a full-count walk in his only plate appearance.

The Reds are bringing Kainer along slowly as he regains the strength and conditioning he lost from two months of inactivity. Grant Griesser, the Reds’ assistant director for player development, said Kainer would remain at extended spring training before joining a rookie league or Class A team.

To Ron Kainer, the first at-bat represented a significant step. “I was very concerned, whether or not he would get a chance to play at this level,” he said. “But everything worked out for the best.”

[In a telephone interview April 4, Kainer said that he was home for a checkup with Dr. Brewer and that all his blood work was normal. He has shed 19 of the 20 pounds he gained after surgery, and at 221 is near his playing weight. “Everything’s going great,” he said.]

The youngest of three boys, Kainer has had renal failure almost his whole life. After he contracted chickenpox as a 2-year-old, doctors discovered a staph infection in his right kidney caused by a defective valve to his bladder. The infection, Kainer said, was slowly diminishing the kidney’s function.

Operations cleared the infection and fixed the valve. But damage to the right kidney was irreversible. In addition, Kainer’s left kidney was one-third its normal size and could not permanently compensate. A transplant was inevitable, Dr. Brewer told the family, probably by the time he reached puberty.

Surprisingly, Kainer’s kidney function remained acceptable into his college years, thanks to medication and a careful diet.

“They were kind of waiting for that one day when that one kidney would not be able to support my body anymore,” Kainer said. “I was blessed to be able to last that long. It shows how great a doctor I had.”

At the University of Texas, Kainer did not play like someone with a health problem. A three-year starter, he hit .312 as a sophomore to help the Longhorns win the College World Series. As a junior, his team-leading .364 average, 66 runs batted in and 25 doubles earned him the Longhorns’ co-Most Valuable Player award with center fielder Drew Stubbs, Cincinnati’s first-round pick in 2006.

“The guy was producing at the highest level of collegiate baseball, hitting third, fourth or fifth, and he was a big horse of a guy,” Chris Buckley, the Reds’ senior director for scouting, said of Kainer.

But the summer after his freshman year, Kainer had a scare. Playing for Wareham in the Cape Cod League, Kainer became nauseated late in games. Kainer said tests showed his kidney function was falling rapidly, but additional medication enabled him to play two more college seasons.

Buckley said every major league team knew about Kainer’s ailment before the draft. But no one expected the news Dr. Brewer delivered June 20: He needed a transplant. “The kid was crushed,” Buckley said.

Kainer said: “It’s shocking. Any time you get news like this, 14 days after you’re drafted, after your dreams have come true, something you worked for your whole life, it’s almost like a door being closed right in your face.”

Tests determined that Carson’s father and brother, Matt, 28, were better matches than his brother Adam, 26. Ron, 53, who pitched one season in the Kansas City Royals’ system, pulled rank to be the donor.

Surgeons did not remove any of Kainer’s organs. Instead, they placed the transplanted kidney where the hip bone would shield it.

“I said, ‘Just make sure it’s on my backside, so it’s protected when I get back in the batter’s box one day,’ ” said Kainer, who bats and throws right-handed.

Like most transplant recipients, Kainer takes daily antirejection medication and takes precautions for a diminished immune system. Besides washing his hands frequently, Kainer makes his own lunch to control his salt and nutritional intake. He wears a molded plastic pad when he plays to protect the kidney. With proper care, Dr. Brewer said, some of her patients have had transplanted kidneys last more than 20 years.

The Reds, being cautious, gave Kainer his own hotel room and his own row of lockers in the clubhouse. Dr. Brewer said she had not told the Reds to do this.

Griesser said, “Our medical staff was concerned that any time you get 150 guys in a tight space, you’ve got no other protection to give him, short of giving him his own space.”

The empty row allows Kainer’s teammates room to sit and gab with him.

“Everybody’s eyes get opened when they hear he’s had a kidney transplant,” Stubbs said. “I think everybody respects the fact he’s working so hard to get back to where he was.”

RFS62
04-06-2007, 06:29 AM
Wow, great story.

Thanks for posting that.