Broken heart couldn't put catcher out

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KENT - "You can't play baseball anymore."

The words hit Brett Jaime harder than a barrel-chested baserunner trying to take him out at home.

"You can't play baseball anymore."

The words from his cardiologist left him bleary-eyed and breathless. A regular checkup had turned into a nightmare for the Kentlake High School catcher.

"It bothered me a lot," said Jaime, a senior. "Baseball has always been a big part of my life for a long time. To be told I wasn't going to have a shot at playing college baseball or professional baseball, that was a hard thing."

Born with a mild heart murmur, the energetic Jaime had accepted the minor restrictions he'd grown up with - no football or basketball or sports that demand excessive running.

But baseball, his father's passion, was acceptable and Brett poured his heart and soul into it. He developed into one of the area's top prospects, despite playing high-school ball for Kent View Christian. When the Class B school dropped its program this year, Jaime was able to play for Class 4A Kentlake while still attending Kent View Christian.

Last summer, he batted .480 with 10 home runs and more than 100 runs batted in while catching for the Wilkinson Cardinals, a Connie Mack club out of Lynnwood. After extra hours in the weight room and extra miles on the track, he was in the best shape of his young life.

"You can't play baseball anymore."

You can't be serious, Brett Jaime thought as the cardiologist left the room. His parents, equally stunned, shared their youngest child's sorrow.

"That was a real devastating moment, because we all knew what baseball meant to Brett," Cindy Jaime said. "For me, it was hard to see my child in any sort of pain, physically or emotionally."

"You can't play baseball anymore, unless. ... "

Unless? When the cardiologist returned with a revised statement, Brett clung to that one word. Unless what? Never mind. Whatever it would take to continue to dream, Jaime was willing to try. Open-heart surgery? OK, let's get going so I can get back in shape for my senior season.

And so, on Sept. 5, a few short weeks after learning the murmur was considered more serious, Brett Jaime under went a seven-hour surgery, receiving a porcine valve - a valve from the heart of a pig - to replace his own. The risk was minimal - doctor said there was a 3 percent fatality rate - but Brett and his family members admit they were scared. After all, even though this was a fairly common procedure, one his mother was very familiar with through her medical transcription business, a 3-percent risk still means three out of every 100 patients die.

But Brett Jaime felt he'd die inside if he couldn't play baseball anymore.

"It was a pretty easy decision to have the surgery," he said. "The main thing I do is play baseball. If I wasn't doing that, I'd probably just sit around and be lazy."

What has surprised teammates and Kentlake Coach Don Bartel is how quickly Jaime worked his way back into playing shape. After a 25-pound weight loss, he once again carries a chiseled 195 pounds on his 5-foot-10 frame.

Cindy Jaimie said her son forced himself to go to the gym when he was still weak and tired. But it's the kind of work ethic she and Tony, his father, have instilled in him.

"I try to be the best I can, because that's what my parents have always taught me," Brett said. "I want to do everything I can, so I won't have any regrets."

That's the way he plays the game - all-out, with no reservations about his health or his heart. His presence has helped pump life into a Kentlake team that finished second in the tough South Puget Sound League North Division behind a Kentridge club ranked No. 1 in the state until this week.

Kentlake, which finished second in the SPSL North, plays Capital today at 4 p.m. in a loser-out game of the West Central/Southwest bi-district tournament at Kent Memorial Park. If Kentlake wins, it will play a second game at 7 tonight for a berth in the state tournament.

Despite a late-April slump, Jaime batted .396 in league games with a .792 slugging percentage that includes five of his seven home runs.

Pro scouts come to check whether he has recovered his arm strength (he has) and have given him reason to hope he'll be taken in next month's amateur draft. Brett Jaime knows he'll likely face open-heart surgery again in 12 to 14 years, the average life of the transplanted pig valve, but in the meantime he can play the game he loves ... with all his heart.