Rangers rallied in coach’s time of need

03/24/2014 7:46 PM

11/12/2014 4:22 PM

In the split second after Ryley Westman realized that he was going to crash the car he was driving, he decided to turn left into the median of a Dominican highway instead of right into the Caribbean Sea.

That choice seemed like the right one in the immediate aftermath, and 13 months later it remains so. But in days that followed, Westman, then the manager of the Texas Rangers’ team in the Dominican Summer League, was in a private clinic in the Dominican Republic with two ruptures in his small intestine and uncertain if he was going to leave alive.

“He was very lucky,” Rangers physician Dr. Keith Meister said.

Westman needed two months to return to full activities after the Feb. 9, 2013, accident in the dark of night on a poorly lit road, part of which had been barricaded with unmarked, black chain-link fencing for a concert earlier in the day.

But not only did Westman recover fully, as did then-DSL hitting coach Aaron Levin from a concussion and cut on his head, but he also guided the Rangers’ team of international hopefuls to its first league championship.

That club, represented by Westman and several players, was honored Monday by the Rangers before their Cactus League game against Oakland.

Westman, generous by nature and filled with boundless energy, would never take all the credit. He believes his players and assistants deserved to take a bow just as much, if not more so, than he did.

So does an organization that rallied around one of its own, one who was about as far away from the major leagues as a coach can be yet was treated as if he were the most important person in the organization.

“He would have done the same thing for any of us,” general manager Jon Daniels said. “This was a guy we’d asked to make a personal sacrifice to spend an extra year in the Dominican for the good of the organization. He’s part of the family. You can talk about a torn meniscus or a strained ligament, but this was life and death.”

Westman, for better or worse, never lost consciousness and can recall many details. He and Levin were both wearing their seat belts, but the airbags, possibly intentionally removed for resale by employees at the rental company, never deployed.

Westman was able to get out of the totaled car under his own power, but he couldn’t stand upright. Once he got to a hospital, he thought the pressure in his abdomen was simply a need to go to the restroom.

It wasn’t. Within a few hours it had become apparent that Westman would require immediate medical attention, and Rangers legal liaison Lucy Carias moved Westman to a better, private clinic.

Meanwhile, the cellphones of Rangers officials were ringing and buzzing with calls and text messages at 3 and 4 in the morning. Meister’s phone started to ring at 5:30 a.m., and he spent the day attempting to arrange the best care possible for Westman in a country that is badly lacking quality doctors and facilities.

“I have a pretty good idea of what the issues are down there,” said Meister, who had been traveling to the Rangers’ Dominican complex the past 10 years and has toured hospitals in the area. “It’s very, very Third World.”

As it turned out, the general surgeon at the clinic where Westman was moved rated as one of only two in the country who met Meister’s standards. Still, Meister wanted to wait to see if Westman would require surgery and if he could be care-flighted to Miami or Puerto Rico.

After two days, the surgeon said Westman’s condition was too unstable to fly and the decision was made to move forward with surgery.

That’s when uncertainty set in with Westman, who by that time was being pumped full of fluids and being fed through a tube snaked down his throat.

“At some point, when they told me I was going in for surgery, I remember thinking to myself, ‘You’re going in for surgery in a Third World country,’ ” Westman said. “ ‘What are you going to be like when you wake up from this? Are you going to wake up from this?’ ”

Westman wasn’t alone at the clinic. Stosh Hoover, who oversees the day-to-day operations at the Dominican facility in Boca Chica, was at the hospital each day along with the DSL team’s trainer, Alex Rodriguez, who was with Westman as he woke up from surgery.

That duo, both fluent in Spanish, served as translators for the surgeon, who spoke little English, and Westman, whose Spanish wasn’t good enough to understand the litany of medical terms.

A.J. Preller, who has overseen amateur scouting in Latin America for several years, phoned twice daily. Meister called at least once a day. Daniels, then-international scouting director Mike Daly, former DSL Rangers manager Jayce Tingler, and even manager Ron Washington phoned Westman.

The Rangers also flipped the bill to fly Westman’s mother, Kay, brother, Britt, and girlfriend, Ashley, to be by his side during the two-week stay in the hospital and the four-day stay in a hotel before he was flown back to the Kansas City area.

“When my family was around me, for some reason I started getting a lot better,” Westman said.

The work done by the Dominican surgeon passed with flying colors, and Westman was told to try to be as active as possible. But snow and ice covered the ground in Missouri, so after only two days Westman decided he needed to be in Arizona for spring training.

By mid-March, Westman was attempting to hit fungos even though team trainers scolded him for it. By April 1, he was headed back to the Dominican Republic to prepare for the upcoming season. By mid-April, he was throwing batting practice.

“I would have had no issues if he had had reservations going back,” Daniels said. “But he was really committed to the kids.”

By June 1, the DSL season opened with Westman at full strength. On Sept. 4, the Rangers won the DSL title, and Westman was the league’s Manager of the Year.

This spring, as the cliché goes, Westman is in the best shape of his life. Each day, Westman, now a states-based minor league catching instructor, is humbled to be with an organization that overwhelmed him with support. He also has a richer appreciation for life.

“Throughout the process, I was so grateful to be involved with the way this organization treated me,” said Westman, 29. “If I hadn’t been given every single resource available, I don’t know that it would have turned out the same. …

“The mushy, sappy side of it is oftentimes after that I would go on runs in the Dominican toward the end of the summer, I’d stop in the outfield as the sun was going down, and I’d be like, ‘I’ll be damned. I’m really lucky to be here.’ ”

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