If you thought you couldn't wait for Ken Korach to return to the broadcast booth, no one spent the summer feeling that way more than Ken himself.
"I really missed it," Ken acknowledges. "I wanted to be there doing the games -- maybe the team would be on the road and I'd be thinking about a place I'd go to eat or a ballpark I really loved. But the other thing was that I just knew that the reality was I had to get better."
Throughout April, May, June, and into July, fans wondered how a knee could cause so much trouble. Why couldn't he just get better? A 2012 knee replacement was supposed to solve any and all knee-related problems, and it did at the time. Trouble is, when you injure a replacement knee, that becomes its own nightmare.
For one thing -- and I had never really pondered this, but of course it makes sense -- when many of the parts are metal and plastic, you can't so easily conduct an MRI to diagnose what's wrong. "The fact that I had a knee replacement made it a lot more complicated," Ken explains, "because I tore a muscle where it becomes a tendon and connects to the bone under the knee, right under the replacement where there's metal and plastic. And then I tore my lateral collateral ligament (LCL) on the left side of the knee, which provides a lot of the stability for the knee. And I also had a case of IT band tendinitis on the left side of my knee. And I think if all those things had happened on my right leg, which is fine, I might not have missed any time." Instead, it was somewhat of a diagnostic and physical therapy game of trial and error. With lots of error.
And remember: the early arrivals to the ballpark, the long games, the 2-week stretch of games without a day off? Those impact the broadcasters too. "The season's rigorous," Ken says, "and even now going down the stretch basically doing all the games for the last 2 months I really had to get myself to a point where (I could be) physically and mentally in shape, in form."
One reason for the delayed return? There was not going to be any false starts -- "back" meant "back to stay" -- and there was not going to be any mailing it in with 86% effort or last minute cancellations ("Roxy, if we send you Fed Ex, can you be at the ballpark by 6pm?") "I have a lot of pride in the work that I do and I also wanted to make sure I was ready to do it," Ken explains. "Sometimes you have a 4-hour game you can't predict. That last game in Arizona was a 4-hour game and then we had a flight home and then we had a 3 hour and 40 minute game the next night."
Same as for the players, the issue is far more than just the demands on the body. "I think mentally it can be almost more demanding than physically," Ken reflects, "because you have to have that level of concentration, you have to be able to focus every day. And so from that standpoint it can be demanding mentally. And I owe the fans, and I owe the organization, my best effort. When you're back, you really have to be back."
If you're wondering? He's back. "I feel real confident I'm going to hold up," he assures fans. "I don't have any doubts that I'll be good to go for the rest of the season. I'm comfortable doing the games. I had to build up my stamina -- you know when you're not active for a long time, there's a lot of things that happen. Atrophy takes over in the leg, or when you're not used to going to bed at 12am or 1am in the morning after night games, you have to readjust your schedule and in a lot of ways you're body needs to readjust. But I'm really confident that I'll be fine the rest of the way. I have no doubt."
Ken goes out of his way to credit the A's medical team for helping to turn his season around. "I'm really fortunate that we have wonderful doctors with the A's," Ken is quick to emphasize. "Dr. Pont, who has headed up the A's medical team for years, Dr. Workman, who is the A's team orthopedist, Elliott Schwartz, who has been part of the A's medical team for a long time -- they have been phenomenal and I can't express my gratitude enough for them."
Speaking of gratitude...What was the impetus for this interview? No, it wasn't the Knee Company's request -- although Knee Co. cares deeply about the status and well-being of every knee -- it was really Ken's desire to express his gratitude to A's fans.
"I heard from so many fans, and it was so heartwarming," Ken recalls. "And during the times when you're hurting a little bit those kinds of (well-wishes) really reminded me of how important this job is to me. And it's hard for me to thank everyone personally...I've just received so much support from the A's fans. And so many people have commented about how they were concerned and how they're glad that I'm back, and I just don't know how to repay people for those kinds of sentiments."
If you sent your good thoughts to Ken, if you expressed concern or care or just a desire to hear him again on the air, did it make a difference? It did. "It helped me to stay connected to the team to hear from fans," Ken says. "And that was a big part of (the recovery), because when you're rehabbing and trying to get back to work, that provided a connection to me which was very important, because I've done this virtually every year for 30 years or more. And so it helped me not to feel quite as detached."
After I turned off my trusty 1985 Radio Shack cassette tape recorder (what, are they not still all the rage?), Ken thought of many other appreciations he wanted to add. One was for Bob Melvin, which led to musing about how when it's taken away you suddenly appreciate all the more those routines that give your life clarity and purpose -- in Ken's case, coming to the ballpark, taping the Bob Melvin Show, telling you the story of this unique baseball game that is unfolding in front of us all right now.
From the A's bullpen right down to the lead broadcaster's left knee, it's been kind of a "lost season" of sorts all around. In that sense, it's great to be able to look and move forward -- or in some cases just to be able to move at all. As Ken might say, "And that's the way our interview ends."