Erik Page is a baseball junkie, has been for as long as he can remember.
A senior infielder for La Pine's varsity squad, he and his teammates have the Hawks in the postseason for the first time since 2001.
“This senior class, they might not be the most talented group, but they've bought into everything we told them,” says La Pine coach Bryn Card, who was an eighth-grader tearing it up in Klamath Falls' Babe Ruth League the last time the Hawks' baseball program advanced past the regular season. “They work hard, they get into the weight room and do the things we ask of them.”
The Hawks' 7-18 overall record is not necessarily a thing of beauty, nor is their 6-9 Sky-Em League mark — they clinched a Class 4A play-in berth, which is expected to be a road game this Thursday against a yet-to-be-determined opponent, by finishing third in league.
But consider where Page and La Pine's other eight seniors have come from. In the three previous seasons before the 2013 campaign, the Hawks had won just eight Sky-Em games total and compiled a 13-53 overall record.
But this group, Page included, persevered. Despite not being able to practice outdoors until mid-April in most years, these Hawk upperclassmen have helped point La Pine's baseball program in the right direction.
They have that mysterious, hard-to-define intangible coaches like to call heart.
The irony, of course, is that is the very organ that nearly killed Erik Page.
In May 2010, at the end of his freshman year at Coquille High — the Pages moved to La Pine midway through the 2011-12 academic year — Erik woke up and didn't feel right.
“I hadn't done anything other than take a shower, but my heart was pounding,” he explains. “It was like I had just played a full-court, five-on-five fast-paced basketball game. It was funky. I didn't get it.”
Luckily, Erik's mother, DeeDee did. A medical assistant with more than 20 years of experience, DeeDee rushed her son to the Bay Area Hospital in Coos Bay, where he underwent a series of tests.
“The next thing I knew I was at Doernbecher (Children's Hospital) in Portland,” Erik recalls.
The diagnosis was atrial fibrillation, which in layman's terms is an irregular — and at times rapid — heart rate, causing limited blood flow through the body. The top two chambers of Erik's heart — the atria — were not always working in concert with the lower chambers — the ventricles.
“During an A-fib (atrial fibrillation) episode, the atrial doesn't beat properly, it shivers like it's cold,” DeeDee explains. “(The atrial) fills up with blood and doesn't pump, which could cause a stroke.”
Extremely rare in children, according to the American Heart Association, atrial fibrillation episodes can be controlled through medication or surgery. The Pages understandably hoped Erik's condition could be managed without operating on his heart and chose to try medication.
It didn't work.
“It was trial and error,” Erik says. “One medicine worked well for a couple of months and I got through the summer. Then about two-thirds of the way through football (his sophomore year) I had to go back to the hospital to get new meds.”
One combination of pills almost killed Erik in his sleep, sending him into cardiac arrest while doctors monitored him.
“He almost died three times trying to avoid surgery,” DeeDee says.
After six months of unsuccessfully playing mix-and-match with medications, the Pages opted for surgery in December 2010, the middle of Erik's sophomore year.
“I was just tired of dealing it,” Erik says about the unpredictable effects of the medications he was on. “Right before Christmas break I decided, 'Let's do this.' ”
Using a catheter that entered a vein in Erik's groin, doctors at Oregon Health Sciences University in Portland performed a cardiac ablation procedure in which they destroyed heart tissue that was sparking his abnormal heartbeat. The operation, while not minor, is much less invasive than open-heart surgery and allows for a much quicker recovery for its patients.
“Nerve or vein bundles were sending out faulty electric signals, telling my heart when to beat,” Erik explains. “They went up (through the catheter) with a camera and a laser to my heart and fixed the electrical signal being sent from my upper (heart) chamber to the lower.”
The surgery seemed to be a cure-all, and Erik played baseball that spring, his first in La Pine, making the varsity team as a sophomore.
But he wasn't out of the woods yet.
Erik went through the summer and felt fine, but an electrocardiogram in the fall during a routine checkup discovered another ailment, supraventricular tachycardia (SVT), which also causes rapid beating of the heart.
“I really didn't want to hear it,” says Erik, who was suiting up for La Pine's first football game of the 2011 season before his mom broke the news to him.
Back to sports
Medicine seemed to eliminate any SVT episodes, though, and Erik played football and baseball for the Hawks during the 2011-12 school year, earning all-league second-team honors on the diamond. While a concussion ended his senior football season early, he has had no heart issues this spring and recently signed a National Letter of Intent to play NCAA Division II baseball at Tiffin University in Tiffin, Ohio — the school and town are located about 90 miles west of Cleveland — after high school graduation.
“He takes everything serious and preps for every game,” says Card, the Hawks' baseball coach, about Erik. “He's not really a vocal leader, not really a 'rah-rah guy', but he gets the job done and leads by example.”
Card, who played at Oregon State and Utah, says his main goal in prepping Erik for college baseball is to make sure he enjoys every infield practice, every soft-toss drill, every game before his career is over.
“It's all about embracing the grind,” Card says. “Love the grind. He's getting to play four more years. You've got to love it every day because it does go away so quick.”
Embracing the moment? It's something Erik Page knows all too well.
Athlete of the week
Summit singles player Chandler Oliveira won his first district championship Saturday, going 4-0 at the Class 4A Special District 1 championships in Sunriver last weekend. Oliveira, who took third at state a year ago, did not drop a set over the two-day tournament and lost just four games total in his quarterfinal, semifinal and championship final matches.
Madras softball clinched the third and final state berth from the Tri-Valley Conference on Friday when Sarah Brown hit a three-run walk-off home run to lead the White Buffaloes past North Marion 9-8. Madras trailed the Huskies 6-0 after the top of the first inning before starting its comeback.
Class 5A girls golf state championships at Quail Valley Golf Course in Banks, 12:15 p.m. (both days): Summit and Bend look to repeat last year's 1-2 finish at state. The Storm enter today's opening round as heavy favorites to win their fifth consecutive title.
Thursday, Friday, Saturday
Class 5A boys and girls state tennis championships in Beaverton and Portland, 9 a.m. all days: Summit's boys and girls team will try to defend their 2012 titles with a host of familiar faces from last year's championship run.