Cal Poly

Spinal infection left Cal Poly baseball coach Larry Lee “hours away from being paralyzed”

Cal Poly baseball coach Larry Lee, who underwent back surgery during the offseason, was selected Tuesday as a member of USA Baseball’s 2017 Collegiate National Team coaching staff.
Cal Poly baseball coach Larry Lee, who underwent back surgery during the offseason, was selected Tuesday as a member of USA Baseball’s 2017 Collegiate National Team coaching staff. jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

Cal Poly baseball coach Larry Lee received some exciting news Tuesday morning, three days before the Mustangs are scheduled to open the 2017 season.

USA Baseball announced Lee was selected as a member of the coaching staff for the 2017 Collegiate National Team, a group that also includes Dave Snow, Long Beach State’s Troy Buckley and Cal State Fullerton’s Rick Vanderhook. UCLA head coach John Savage was named team manager in December.

Lee, who will serve as the team’s first base coach, has been among the most consistent coaches in the Big West Conference over the past 14 years. He’s helped guide the Mustangs to eight 30-win seasons, 12 top-four Big West finishes — including the 2014 conference championship — and has piled up 455 victories along the way.

Yet, Lee’s first national coaching assignment comes at the tail end of a difficult stretch in his personal life.

While helping one of his daughter’s cows give birth over the summer, Lee contracted a bacterial infection through an open wound in his hand. The infection settled between the L1 and L2 vertebrae and an abscess formed in his lower lumbar spine, yielding Lee largely immobile.

“The doctor said I was hours away from being paralyzed,” Lee said. “That’s how bad it was.”

Lee said he was experiencing “extreme spasms like I’ve never had before” and the pain was off the charts. He lay in one spot for 13 straight days, hoping the pain would heal on its own. Lee eventually realized that wouldn’t be the case, and he underwent back surgery Sept. 13.

The procedure was performed by Dr. David Yeh, a neurosurgeon based in San Luis Obispo.

Lee said last week his L1 through L5 vertebrae are bulging and the nerves have been compressed around the spine, with arthritis adding to the pain. Five months after surgery, he feels “maybe 65 percent” healthy, having lost more than 30 pounds and most of his physical strength.

“Trying to figure out how to get out of bed, I mean, it was just so painful and locked up,” Lee said. “Unlucky to get it, very lucky to have the surgeon I got.”

Lee said he believes it will take about a year to regain his mobility and strength. He exercises daily and still leads baseball practices in the afternoons, but running and prolonged sitting are both challenging.

“I’m hoping it just continues to get better on a weekly basis,” Lee said.

According to a release from USA Baseball, the national team will train in Cary, North Carolina, and compete against teams in the Coastal Plain League in late June. They will later host two international friendship series against Chinese Taipei and Cuba throughout North Carolina.

“It’s an honor to represent the country in this capacity,” Lee said in a school release.

Cal Poly baseball

Season opener: 7 p.m. Friday, at California

Home opener: 1 p.m. Monday, vs. Stanford

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