Monday, March 16, 2009

Corey Koskie thankful for 2nd chance with Chicago Cubs

By Dave van Dyck

TUCSON, Ariz. — Professional athletes have such special skills and lead such gifted lives that they take them for granted.

Until it ends before it should, as it did for Corey Koskie.

Now trying an unlikely comeback with the Cubs at 35 after spending 21/2 years battling postconcussion syndrome, Koskie could play in a game by Tuesday. After all that time in a dizzying fog, the simple things seem special.

"My biggest thing is being healthy, that I'm able to do this and put on a uniform, that I cleared medical exams," Koskie said. "Sweat and hit and throw and take ground balls and come back the next day and do the same thing. That's the biggest [thing], to be able to do all that stuff. Anything after this is a bonus."

Realistically, Koskie stands very little chance of breaking camp with the Cubs. But even manager Lou Piniella admits, "I'm curious to see for myself" exactly what the former Twins, Blue Jays and Brewers third baseman can do.

"It's worth a shot looking at him," Piniella said. "He's certainly a guy who's had success, and obviously he wants another crack at it."

Koskie wants that last crack at being in a clubhouse again, panting from workouts, facing pitchers throwing fastballs. Those are things athletes forget that should mean so much.

"It took longer than anybody expected," he said. "Now I'm back to the life I had before the injury. If this doesn't work, whatever happens, I can put that part of my life behind me and move on."

Koskie has been symptom-free for nearly three months after a physical therapist worked on straightening his neck. In fact, Koskie never did actually hit his head on the ground July 5, 2006, while trying to catch a popup behind third base. The freakish injury was more like whiplash. But Koskie knew immediately that something was wrong.

Then came the long recovery and endless visits to neurologists as he tried to work through symptoms that wouldn't go away.

"It's almost like being drunk," he said. "Your depth perception, your cognitive skills are off. It's like sitting in an office and looking outside and there's a window separating you from the outside. You're there, but you're not there. It's kind of hard to explain."

Koskie is best known in Chicago to South Side fans. He helped the Twins win three consecutive Central Division titles from 2002-04. His best season produced 26 homers, 103 RBIs and 100 runs.

Koskie is as anxious and determined as any first-year minor-league player as he works on his comeback. He felt good enough to be accepted for the roster of Team Canada. While he did not appear in a World Baseball Classic game, Koskie did play in an exhibition.

Never did something so painful as being drilled by a pitcher feel so good. Never did a sprint home leave him so breathless.

"My first at-bat with Team Canada," he said, "I got hit on the shoulder, and then I had to score from first [on a double]. That was a pretty special moment just to be like, 'I'm back, maybe I can do this again.' "

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