Pirates' Doumit, Walker familiar with concussions

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BRADENTON, Fla. -- Not much could stop Penguins star Sidney Crosby earlier this season.

There was that 25-game point streak and those 32 goals and 34 assists at the season's midpoint.

But what no clutching, grabbing, poke-checking or trapping defense could halt, a concussion has.

Crosby hasn't played since Jan. 5. He hasn't been able to pass the requisite baseline tests or go through a workout without experiencing symptoms afterward, steps that would allow medical staff to clear his return.

Pirates catcher Ryan Doumit and second baseman Neil Walker know well what Pittsburgh's NHL mega-star is going through.

Both have had concussions, both experienced the hazy feeling and headaches, both had to go through the rigors of rehabilitation to get back on the field.

"There's no pill, no set formula to getting back, that is the toughest part," said Doumit, who went on the 15-day disabled list in June after three bouts with concussions or concussion-like symptoms.

"Everyone is different."

Walker didn't know how he would react June 25 last season, as he was flat on the grass in Oakland after colliding with outfielder Ryan Church while the two were chasing an airborne ball. Walker missed seven games before the symptoms subsided and doctors cleared him.

"When I first started to go out and run, it was a very uneasy feeling, I wasn't myself at all," Walker said Tuesday morning as he and Doumit sat at their lockers before heading to work for the day.

"Seeing what type of competitor Sidney Crosby is, being a big Penguins fan myself, I just can't imagine what he's going through not being able to be out there. Can't imagine what he's thinking right now.

"Five days into my concussion was the first day I went out and ran. But sitting there watching a game, even that long after, the noise and the lights and everything, I had to wear sunglasses because everything was still giving me a headache."

Their recovery and treatment involved a two-pronged battery of exams, equal parts physical and mental.

The mental component is a computer test with a baseline established when a player does not have a concussion and administered in spring training, Doumit said.

The player takes the test again after getting a concussion, and the responses are compared.

"It is a lot of memory, a lot of shapes, a lot of things like that ... ," Doumit said.

"It tests your recognition, those sorts of things. Then, there is the workout part of it."

That means that a player has to go through a workout and not experience any lingering effects, such as light-headedness or nausea.

A player who wants to get back on the field can't just tell a doctor anymore that everything is OK.

"As professional athletes, you want to be out on the field," Walker said.

"Ask any of us, and we are going to say, 'Let me get out there.'

"But, in some respect, you have to have someone else there looking out for you, too."

Doumit said he likely has had 10 "little concussions" playing baseball since he was 18, never a big-time jolt where he was knocked out, but little ones that he said have served to "chip away."

"You have to be honest with yourself, but that is tough," Doumit said. "I was trying to convince everyone that I was ready to go because I wanted back on that field.

"But those doctors have jobs, too. And part of their job is to protect us, and we have to realize it as athletes."

Buried treasure

• After missing the Monday workouts because of neck spasms, third baseman Pedro Alvarez was back on the field Tuesday. He went through all drills and showed no hesitation or lingering impact from the neck discomfort.

• Pirates manager Clint Hurdle named the pitching sequence for the club's exhibition opener Friday, a seven-inning game against State College of Florida, Manatee-Sarasota. Aaron Thompson, Tyler Yates, Jeff Locke, Mike Crotta, Justin Wilson, Kyle McPherson and Rudy Owens are scheduled to pitch one inning each in that order.

Colin Dunlap: cdunlap@post-gazette.com . First Published February 23, 2011 5:00 AM


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