Concussion Puts Bussiere's Career on Hold

St. Louis Cardinals minor league catcher Garrett Bussiere remains sidelined by post-concussion syndrome and has returned home from spring training. While his immediate plans are medically-focused, the 21-year-old still hopes to return to baseball.

For a select few parents each year, a singular desire dreamed by many over a number of years actually comes true. After Mom and Dad tossed countless batting practice sessions, washed numerous uniforms and traveled all over the country to support their son's baseball career, their offspring is finally selected by a major league organization in the draft and signs his first professional contract.

This dream became reality for the Raymond and Sharon Bussiere family of Wheat Ridge, Colorado last summer as their son, Garrett, signed with the St. Louis Cardinals after being selected in the 26th round of the June, 2006 First Year Player Draft.

Yet, less than 12 months later, at the still-tender age of 21, Garrett Bussiere's professional baseball career, his primary objective for so many years, has been put on indefinite hold due to post-concussion syndrome.

Rick Wilton of Baseball-Injury-Report.com explains further in the context of two very well-known cases. "As we've seen with Mike Matheny and Corey Koskie's post-concussion syndrome, it can end a career or disable a player for an extended period of time.

"Post concussion syndrome is the condition a player suffers after a concussion, which is a bruising of the brain.

"The rule of thumb regarding post-concussion syndrome is simple. The longer the player struggles with this condition, the more difficult it is for the player to return. In Koskie's case, he gets dizzy and disoriented anytime he works out and tries to elevate his heart rate with aerobic conditioning.

"If Koskie or any player cannot shake the post-concussion syndrome anytime his heart rate goes up due to workouts, then his career is over. Koskie is approaching that point," Wilton explained.

So may Garrett Bussiere.

Bussiere has been an elite athlete for as long as his father can remember. "I've worked with him all these years. I haven't been the dad on the sidelines watching them. I have thrown him 10 to 15 thousand balls every year since he was eight years old," Ray Bussiere proudly exclaimed.

Garrett was a two-sport star and batted .508 with three doubles, a triple, seven home runs and 33 RBIs as a junior at Northglenn (Colorado) High School, earning a spot on the Denver Area All-Metro team.

He committed to the California Golden Bears in late 2002. Though taken by the Milwaukee Brewers in the 14th round of the 2003 draft, Bussiere instead enrolled at Cal that fall. As a freshman in the spring of 2004, he hit .307 and was named the Bears' Freshman of the Year.

In 2005, Bussiere started 38 games behind the plate for Cal, batting .262 with five home runs and 21 RBIs and that summer, competed in the prestigious Cape Cod League.

After signing with the Cardinals, the 6-foot-2, 190-pounder had played in just 22 games for rookie-level Johnson City in 2006, batting .156 with three RBIs, while getting good marks for his defense.

And then it happened.

Last July 21st, Bussiere suffered a concussion on a foul tip and has not played an official game since. He was placed on the disabled list for the remainder of the 2006 season.

While Garrett returned to his workout schedule over the winter, his father realized that everything was not yet right. "We worked out one day over the Christmas holidays and he was hitting the ball well. We were doing some drills indoors and then he kind of turned white and lost all his energy. We quit after that. I said, ‘Garrett, I don't think I am going to throw to you any more until we get this resolved.' It's scary," the elder Bussiere explained.

The Cardinals welcomed Garrett to his first-ever spring training camp this month, but he still exhibited symptoms whenever his heart beat was elevated. Of course, the organization put the young catcher's interests first.

John Vuch, Cardinals Director of Minor League Operations, was very clear. "We weren't going to let him participate in any drills/games, etc. until he had full clearance and was symptom free, and he still hadn't reached that point."

As a result, a few days ago, Bussiere left behind his dream in Florida and returned home to Colorado, his baseball future clearly in limbo.

Vuch supports the decision. "As I discussed with several of our staff, when it involves a young person's brain, we absolutely have to err on the side of caution. A situation like his is one that we take very seriously - even though they're "grown men", we have an obligation to protect them when something like this happens. If we had let him go back out there and something more would have happened, I would have had a hard time looking at myself in the mirror."

I asked Ray Bussiere if there was a consensus view as to whether a single incident caused Garrett's difficulties or it was an accumulation over time. While there is no clear answer, even a young man like Garrett has had his "bell rung" more than once.

Ray knew when and where it happened to his son. "He got run into against the University of Arizona. There was a play at home plate when he was a freshman or sophomore. The ball arrived at home plate the same time as the runner and they went head-to-head. Garrett held onto the ball and tagged him out, but was really thrown for a loop. They think at that time that he had a concussion.

"Another time prior to that, I think it was in an intra-squad game at Cal where there was a pitcher having control problems and he hit Garrett in the ear flap. He was hit right where the hole is and it reverberated through. They said he had a small tear in his ear drum.

Garrett has just one semester remaining at Cal-Berkeley to complete his degree in American Studies, but surprisingly, his return to school last fall may have contributed to his non-recovery.

Ray Bussiere explains. "He went back to college last fall but these doctors said that the brain never really had a chance to rest. He's been through a number of eight-hour tests in West Palm Beach and scores real well in terms of brain activity, but when his heart rate is elevated, the symptoms return… Right now, all he has been doing is taking all these tests, but nobody says what the next steps are. I guess the next steps are just to rest."

Ray made it clear that his son's first priority is to regain his health but right behind is a return to the game he loves. The family is mapping out plans that will undoubtedly pass through many more doctors and medical facilities, increasing the levels of stress for Garrett and his fully-supportive clan, but just maybe also finding a way for him to resume playing ball in the process.

"Right now, we're dealing with the reality of the situation… He's a very well-conditioned athlete and isn't even fully-developed yet. It would be a shame if you had to get out of baseball before you have a chance to show them what you are all about… His heart is in baseball and he is really bummed out about this whole thing. He's getting information. He's just not getting any better… Waiting is a tough deal when you are waiting for something you cannot see," the elder Bussiere said.

The Cardinals haven't closed the door to Bussiere, but neither are they particularly optimistic. "While he hasn't made a final decision about his future, it's very possible that this would be (baseball) career ending. He's a bright young kid, and will succeed in life whether or not it involves baseball," concluded Vuch.



Brian Walton can be reached via email at brwalton@earthlink.net.

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