Nationals

Utah St. player who collapsed hopes to play again

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Utah St. player who collapsed hopes to play again

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) A Utah State basketball player who nearly died after collapsing during practice Tuesday is expected to be able play again.

Danny Berger collapsed during practice in Logan and fell into cardiac arrest. The team's trainer revived him using a defibrillator.

Doctors have inserted a small defibrillator underneath Berger's skin in his chest that would kick into action and restart his heart if it stops again. His left arm will remain in a sling for three weeks because of the defibrillator. After that, doctors say he should be cleared to play again.

``If I everything goes right, it seems like I'll have a full recovery,'' the 22-year-old Berger said Friday during a press conference.

Berger will be released from the hospital Saturday and plans to go to Utah State's Saturday night game against Western Oregon.

Doctors cannot fully explain what caused the collapse, but said he was born with a tendency for this to happen because of his heart having two to three extra beats, said Dr. Jared Brunch of the Intermountain Medical Center.

Tests show that playing basketball shouldn't be a problem for Berger, Brunch said. When he does play again, doctors will be monitoring the heart remotely via the defibrillator. Other college basketball players have played with defibrillators in place, Brunch said.

``By all means, we want him to go back and play,'' Brunch said. ``He's played at a high level of basketball for over 16 years, so his heart most of the time recovers nicely.''

Doctors have not been able to fully explain why Berger collapsed, Brunch said. Berger said he has never experienced anything like what happened, and knows nothing of any pre-existing condition.

The near-death experience has made Berger reflect on the frailty of life and strengthened his belief in God. Berger is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

``I can't deny the hand of God in the whole situation,'' he said. ``I know for a fact that he used people to still have me here. There is a purpose why I'm here.''

This was the first time Berger has spoken to the media since the collapse.

Berger was upgraded Thursday to ``fair'' condition and moved out of the intensive care unit at a Salt Lake City area hospital. He has been in critical condition since being flown there by helicopter Tuesday.

Berger said he remembers what happened up until his collapse, which he said felt like standing up too fast from bed and feeling light headed. His next memory was waking up in a hospital.

Dr. Brunch said it's remarkable that Berger survived - at least more than half of people whose hearts stop die. Every minute, survival possibilities go down by 10 percent, he said. Berger's heart wasn't functioning for 30 seconds, Brunch said.

Brunch said this case shows the importance of having the automated external defibrillator, known as AEDs, around at gyms and public areas.

Longtime Utah State assistant athletic trainer Mike Williams used that device within a minute or two after Berger went into cardiac arrest. That quick action has been credited with saving Berger's life.

Berger said Williams didn't have the device on top of the water cooler like usual, but team manager Jesse Parker sprinted up a tunnel at the basketball arena and brought it back down to the court quickly. Parker is Berger's roommate.

``Before he hit even the ground, I was already out of my chair sprinting up the tunnel,'' Parker said Friday.

Utah State basketball coach Stew Morrill also spoke for the first time Friday, saying his visits with Berger have been emotional.

``I'm an old bird. I don't know if I'm a tough old bird, but I'm definitely an old bird and things like this are hard. The fact that he's doing so much better has made it bearable. It's emotional,'' Morrill said.

Morrill discussed those visits as his team prepared to play Saturday against Western Oregon - the Aggies' first game since Berger collapsed.

Morrill said his own heart ached seeing Berger three straight days at a Salt Lake City-area hospital.

Morrill said he nearly lost it when Berger was regaining consciousness.

``He thanked me for coming,'' Morrill recalled. ``That one about got me. Yeah right, like it was a big deal for me to come. He's just an awfully, awfully good kid.''

Danny Berger was born in Fort Collins, Colo., and went to high school in Medford, Ore. He played basketball at Chemeketa Community College in Oregon before coming to play for Utah State. The junior is a starter at forward and averages 7.6 points and 3.6 rebounds.

Berger's family has been with him at the hospital since Tuesday. Evidence of his improvement was visible in a photo a friend tweeted Thursday showing Berger flashing a ``thumbs up'' sign while surrounded by family members.

Aggies students have organized a campaign to send Berger get-well cards and should be in full force to show their support for the team Saturday night, even if Berger remains hospitalized.

Morrill said getting back to practice has been ``therapeutic'' for the team and coaches after they witnessed the incident.

``The fact that Danny's doing better has made it seem like it's time to go back to the practice floor,'' Morrill said.

He said it's been 10 days since the team last played and that it will be interesting to see how players respond in a game considering all that has happened.

They returned to practice Thursday.

``The kids were a little rusty, but in good spirits and had about as good a workout as you could expect,'' Morrill said.

Utah State, meanwhile, continues working with Brigham Young officials to find a suitable date to reschedule the rivalry game that was postponed Wednesday because of what happened to Berger.

``As I've said, they've been great in this situation,'' Morrill said. ``It's just a dilemma right now with conference play around the corner and both of us having full schedules. Finals week is next week and that was looked at. We're trying to look at all the options, but that's the stage we're in right now. We have not found a date that works yet.''

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Five baseball books to read while in quarantine

Five baseball books to read while in quarantine

The Nationals Talk podcast has been on a book run lately. Jesse Dougherty of the Washington Post stopped by last week to discuss his book, “Buzz Saw”, about the 2019 Nationals season. Jared Diamond of the Wall Street Journal, and author of “Swing Kings”, joined us for Tuesday's episode. We’re a veritable baseball library.

So, in keeping with the book theme -- and the lack of baseball coupled with extra time -- here’s a list of five baseball books to read during quarantine. The list could include 20 other titles. But, many of these books are the reason this was a personal pursuit in the first place. Feel free to add some in the comments. And happy reading.

The Boys of Summer by Roger Kahn

I don’t remember how old I was when I first read Kahn’s book, but I do remember it presented this fairy tale view of baseball in my mind.

Kahn covers his Brooklyn childhood, early reporting days at the New York Herald Tribune and follows the Dodgers to the end of the 1955 World Series. For a kid growing up in the sticks three hours north of New York City, everything about the situation delivered the grandeur you would associate with such a life. And the team was loaded with legendary names: Roy Campanella, Gil Hodges, Pee Wee Reese, Jackie Robinson, Duke Snider, Don Newcombe, Johnny Podres (who was from upstate New York).

The era has striking differences to our current baseball one. Kahn was working in a time of baseball-player-as-hero, where emotion, personal interaction and unfettered access colored the presentation of the sport and its players as much as analytics does now. Kahn also knew those players could be incomplete humans, like anyone else, and presented them as such.

This book is part nostalgia, part writing master class and part memoir. Do yourself the favor.

Ball Four by Jim Bouton

What Kahn held in eloquence, Bouton held in -- how to say this -- chutzpah.

The subtitle of the book goes like this: “The controversial bestseller that tears the cover off the biggest names in baseball.” Corny? Yes. Oversell? A bit, or so it seems now. But any time a book written about a specific sports league leads to the league’s commissioner, in this case Bowie Kuhn, speaking out against it, the book clearly sent a jolt.

Bouton’s diary of his 1969 season with the Seattle Pilots (great throwback jerseys) and Houston Astros is also a look back at his time with the Yankees. He spent seven years (1962-1968) in the Bronx, pitched well (3.36 ERA), and paid attention. What distinctly set Bouton’s book apart was his willingness to tell the truth about what happened behind closed doors. From his personal clashes with management to Mickey Mantle’s drinking, Bouton spilled secrets which were -- and would remain -- significant breaches of any “circle of trust.”

For that, Bouton was reviled and revered. Players despised him for it. Critics adored the insight. The book became a hit. Time magazine once listed it among the 100 greatest non-fiction books of all-time.

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Three Nights in August by Buzz Bissinger

This hops us into a more modern look at baseball. Beyond that, it also gives a look into what baseball is built on: the three-game series.

When writers travel to cover the NFL, it’s an in-and-out experience. You arrive in the city on Saturday and sometimes leave as soon as Sunday night. For the NBA, you drop in one place, then go directly to another, easily losing track. Baseball provides a temporary chance to unpack.

And during the settling teams blast through three games. Bissinger chose the Cubs-Cardinals rivalry to write about. Tony La Russa was still running things in St. Louis at the time, and became the central figure of the book. He’s intriguing for the obvious reasons of brand recognition, but also because his bullpen strategy in the late 1980s became the standard and remains paramount today.

Bissinger became famous for “Friday Night Lights” and his background knowledge here about La Russa allows the access to deliver even more insight. Good writing, good figures, good story.

Moneyball by Michael Lewis

This is on the list because if you somehow have not read it, why not?

We won’t spend too much time on one of the most-famous baseball books in history, if not the most well-known, period.

Quickly: The low-budget A’s force math into the equation in order to find a way to win without significant cash resources. General manager Billy Beane is the architect of this approach (and apparently good-looking enough Brad Pitt plays him in the movie).

At its core, the book is about old-school versus new-school thinking and is (gasp) already 16 years old.

The Only Rule Is it Has To Work by Ben Lindbergh

Lindbergh took the Moneyball concept a step further and crossed it with baseball kookiness.

The Sonoma Stompers, part of the independent Pacific Association, allowed Lindbergh and Sam Miller to run baseball operations strictly on advanced analytics.

The book is a functional, real-world application of a consistent baseball argument: do everything by the numbers in order to maximize outcome. So, does it work?

No spoilers here beyond saying the experiment combined with those who populate independent baseball produces a compelling read.

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The Vault: Looking back at Bullets-Sixers Game 5 of the 1986 NBA Playoffs

The Vault: Looking back at Bullets-Sixers Game 5 of the 1986 NBA Playoffs

After a two-week break for paternity leave, it's time to spin the dial, line up the combination numbers and re-open the vault. Earlier in the NBA's hiatus, we looked back at Bullets playoff games from the 1970s and the 1990s. Today, we go to the 1980s and revisit Game 5 of the 1986 first-round playoff series between the Washington Bullets and the Philadelphia 76ers.

Now, this is a game that older Bullets fans likely wouldn't want to relive. The Bullets not only lost the game, they got blown out, and it ended their season.

But it was also an interesting snapshot into an era of the NBA and of Bullets basketball and, in a way, it encapsulated what the Bullets were in the 1980s. They made the playoffs five straight years from 1983 to 1988 and lost in the first round each time. 

In 1986, the Bullets won only 39 games, yet they were the sixth seed. It was an especially bad year in the Eastern Conference, so bad that the Chicago Bulls set an NBA record that still stands as the worst team to ever make the playoffs. They were 30-52.

The Bullets won Game 1 against the Sixers, but fell on the road in Game 5 when basically all of their best players didn't show up. It was a major letdown.

But it was still a basketball time capsule worth looking back on. Here are five takeaways including pictures and GIFs of the best moments...

Bol's network debut

The NBA back then was not even close to what it is now in terms of worldwide reach. It was not far removed from the NBA Finals playing on tape delay and very few games were broadcast nationally. Usually, those national games featured teams like the Lakers and Celtics, not the Washington Bullets.

So this particular game marked the first time Manute Bol played on network television. The Bullets rookie was a person of intrigue because at 7-foot-6, he was the tallest player in NBA history at the time. Remember, this was before Gheorghe Muresan, Shawn Bradley and Yao Ming. 

Bol was also a fascinating player because as a rookie he led the league in blocked shots with a ridiculous average of 5.0 per game. He averaged more blocks than he did points (3.7). 

Bol playing in his network debut was a big part of the broadcast with color commentator Tommy Heinsohn remarking pregame that "when [Bol] first joined the NBA, a lot of people thought it was for freak value." Heinsohn, though, went on to twice compare Bol's rim-protecting prowess to Bill Russell.

Heinsohn also said later in the game the Bullets training staff put the roster through a strength exam and Bol tested at the level of "a child." He was tall, but extremely skinny, listed at just 200 pounds. And his thin frame was a major disadvantage against Sixers superstar Charles Barkley.

Despite being a foot shorter, Barkley absolutely dominated Bol in this game with his strength and low center of gravity.

Bol had zero points, two rebounds and one block in the game.

Bol had a song

To further illustrate the spectacle that Bol's network debut was, CBS aired a music video for him at halftime. It was called 'Bol-tending' and it was the type of video that was for some reason commonplace around sports in the 1980s and 90s.

Custom rap songs about teams and players were all the rage back then and even as a rookie, Bol had one complete with a killer saxophone solo.

The 80s were in full force

The Bol video was just one example of the remarkable 80s-ness of this game and the broadcast. There were so many things that may have been cool at the time that just aren't that cool anymore.

Like, this starting lineup graphic. It looks like a Prince album cover.

There were also a few hairstyles you just never see in today's NBA. There was the let-it-flow male pattern baldness of Gus Williams:

There was also Jeff Ruland's full and glorious mustache, which made him look like a cop who went undercover as an NBA player:

And you had Tom McMillen's moppy gray hair that made him look like a middle school science teacher:

It seems worth noting that Just For Men didn't come out until 1987, the year after this game was played. And this was actually McMillen's final NBA game. He had already announced his retirement and made it known he was going to run for U.S. Congress as soon as his playing career was over. They mentioned it twice on the broadcast.

Imagine a current NBA player's farewell tour including that as his next step. McMillen, who was a Rhodes Scholar before playing in the NBA, would win that election and two more to serve three terms in the House of Representatives hailing from Maryland's 4th District.

Sixers were loaded with stars

The Sixers had one of the most star-studded NBA teams ever assembled in 1985-86, though some of those stars were up there in age and not the players they once were. They had a whopping five Hall of Famers. That included Barkley, Julius Erving, Moses Malone, Bob McAdoo and Maurice Cheeks. 

Malone and McAdoo didn't play in this game due to injuries, Malone because of a fractured eye socket (ouch). But the other three had their way with the Bullets in Game 5.

Barkely, in particular, was unstoppable. He had a triple-double with 19 points, 15 rebounds and 12 assists. And he just jumped off the screen as the best player on the floor.

This was a different era where a lot of the players weren't athletic or skilled enough to hang in today's game. But it is pretty obvious Barkley would still be a star. He was just unbelievably powerful and fast in the open floor.

Dr. J still had it

Erving may have been 35 years old, but he was still one of the best athletes on the court. He made a series of plays that were reminiscent of the ageless wonder we see these days in LeBron James.

Erving had a few vicious dunks that did not look like a guy at the end of his career:

And this one play where he leapt over the press section really stood out:

The NBA has come a long way since the 80s, but Barkley and Dr. J were both before their time. And the Bullets may now be the Wizards, but they are still waiting to break through in the playoffs, even decades later.

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