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MLB.com Columnist

Richard Justice

Towers thankfully no longer at loss for words

Towers thankfully no longer at loss for words

Towers thankfully no longer at loss for words

Arizona Diamondbacks general manager Kevin Towers initially realized something was wrong during the First Year-Player Draft. Actually, those around him were the first to know.

He had lost the ability to speak.

At first, Towers' staff thought it was funny. Here was the boss sitting there attempting to make a point. Only no words were coming out.

And then it became terrifying.

The D-backs' training staff was summoned. Their first guess was that Towers was having a stroke. An ambulance was summoned, and he was rushed to a hospital where a battery of tests revealed he had not had a stroke.

Still, he could not speak.

"One side of your vocal cords is paralyzed," a doctor told him.

He could not explain why. Over the next few weeks, Towers underwent more tests. Everything kept coming back normal.

Still, he could not speak.

Some days, Towers would wake up in the morning and rasp out a few words, and that would be that. There were days he'd walk around the office talking normally, hoping that the nightmare would be over. When other general managers would telephone, Towers would respond by email.

If there was a medical consensus, it seemed to be that Towers would probably been hit by some kind of virus. That diagnosis made sense, because in the weeks before the Draft he'd flown all over the country to see kids.

Towers missed some sleep and ate poorly and maybe, just maybe, the fatigue made him vulnerable. All that would have been fine except the inability to speak continued, and as the days turned into weeks, as the July 31 Trade Deadline approached, as his team held onto first place in the National League West, he didn't know when he'd be able to do his job again.

And know this: At 51, Kevin Towers loves his job about as much as any human being you'll ever meet. He's a baseball lifer, a former player, coach and scout, and for the most of the last two decades, a general manager.

Towers spent 14 years in charge of the Padres and the last three running the D-backs. Along the way, he established a reputation for putting together good teams (five division championships) with relatively small payrolls and for treating people the way we'd all like to be treated.

It's unlikely any general manager is more highly regarded by his peers than Kevin Towers, both for his competence and his essential decency.

His three years with the D-backs have been maybe the happiest of his professional life. He has forged a fast friendship with team president Derrick Hall, and thanks to managing general partner Ken Kendrick, they've been given the freedom and resources to build a model franchise, one in which a professional sports franchise attempts to reach beyond the playing field. The Arizona Diamondbacks pride themselves on treating employees well and being a good citizen of the community.

This is an important season for Towers in baseball, too. He retooled his team over the offseason, in part, by trading its biggest star, Justin Upton. He and manager Kirk Gibson envisioned a team built around pitching, defense, aggressiveness, and one that, as Towers said, "would be a thorn in your side every single night."

So far, so good. The D-backs are the NL's best defensive team and are in the top five in runs, hits, doubles, etc. They're winning close games, too, going 19-12 in one-run contests and 10-3 in extra innings. Their pitching staff hasn't been as good as they hoped despite the emergence of All-Star left-hander Patrick Corbin. Still, they've been in first place for 69 days, so plenty has gone right.

Anyway, with all these things going on in Kevin Towers' life, with the baseball and the work environment and the rest, here he was dealing with a crisis that alternately frustrated and frightened him.

And then this week, just as he'd begun to wonder if his life would ever again be normal, something odd happened.

Kevin Towers woke up and spoke to his wife, Kelley. He coughed some and kept clearing his throat, but after four weeks of silence, he could speak.

He sounds like a guy recovering from a bad cold, a voice with a touch of rasp and maybe a bit deeper.

But Towers is talking again.

"I think I'm normal," he said Tuesday. "I think it's going to be OK."

Towers' appreciation of his job has been reset these last five weeks after some of the things he enjoyed the most, like talking baseball with scouts and other general managers and bouncing ideas off his manager and coaches, were taken away from him.

"It's just kind of hard to grasp when you're going through it," he said. "One moment, you're completely normal, and the next you can't speak. You don't know if your life will ever be the same. They convince you it's something that has to pass through your body, but after a month, you start to wonder if you'll ever be normal again."

After all Towers had been through, I told him I was almost embarrassed to be nagging him about his erratic bullpen or the inconsistency of his rotation.

"No, no, no," he said. "Believe me, I'm thrilled to be doing this stuff again."

Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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