By CRYSTAL EVOLA
Of The Oakland Press
LAKELAND, Fla. - Craig Dingman went from being excited about his chances of taking over as the Tigers' setup man this season to wondering if he will ever pitch again.
Dingman's baseball future became murky about 12 days ago, when an artery tear in his right shoulder was discovered.
While pitchers and catchers took the field for a second straight day of spring training workouts, Dingman sat by his locker Friday morning hoping that somehow the seemingly endless number of questions will soon be answered about his rare condition.
"This just came out of the blue," said Dingman, who typically has a smile on his face. "I go from being on the team to this. ... It's kind of scary. They tell me there's a chance of rupturing the artery and killing you, or you could lose fingers, a hand, an arm."
Dingman is now on blood-thinning medication and is prohibited from doing any upper-body workouts until more information is gathered. He can still do lower-body conditioning to help stay in shape. "I want to be here and be with the guys," said Dingman, who reported as scheduled on Wednesday. "I love that. But when they go out, I've got to stay in here and I can't do any upper-body weights, throwing or nothing like that, especially right out of the chute the first day or two Š it's eating ya up."
Nobody seems to know what caused this, what the next course of action will be, how long he will be sidelined or what could happen if Dingman tries to pitch again.
"It's all uncharted waters with what we're dealing with right now," Dingman said. "If we're talking elbow surgery, shoulder surgery or something like that, we've got time frames of things that's happened. This thing here is an unknown. How many people have you heard of that's torn an artery?"
Dingman is in a holding pattern at this point and wondering if he will even get a chance to play catch with his son.
"It's a very rare condition," Tigers head athletic trainer Kevin Rand said. "That's why we're researching literature, we're discussing (things) with others in the vascular community to see if anyone has that experience with a similar situation, a similar injury.
"Obviously, it's a serious injury, and it's being treated as a serious injury, and we're waiting for further testing."
Dingman said he had no trouble throwing off the mound or playing catch throughout January.
While playing catch with a teammate on Feb. 4, Dingman watched his fingers lose all color because their was no circulation from his elbow down. He underwent a battery of tests on Feb. 6 and was in Detroit for further evaluation the following day. Since then, the man who is an intimidating-looking figure on the mound because of his 6-foot-4, 230-pound frame and shaved head, has been in a state of confusion. The gentle giant is trying to fi gure out how this could affect his wife and two children back in Kansas. "It's definitely a reality check," Dingman said. "It scares the hell out of you." Dingman's come a long way.
The right-hander was 2-3 with four saves and a 3.66 ERA in 34 appearances for the Tigers last season to earn a shot at the setup job in 2006. Dingman was 2-1 with four saves and a 2.81 ERA in 35 appearances with Triple-A Toledo before being called up to Detroit after July's All-Star break.
He joined the Tigers as a minorleague free agent for the 2004 season after he spent a year pitching in the Mexican League.
Dingman started in the New York Yankees organization as a 36th round pick in the 1993 amateur draft. He's also logged innings for the Rockies, Reds and Cubs.
He was right on the verge something big here with the Tigers.
"You don't want to see that stuff happen to anybody," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. "But when you get the guys who are real troopers and guys who have worked so hard to get back to put themselves in a situation where they can finally be in the major leagues on a consistent basis and make some money, that's a crying shame.
"For whatever reason, it'll work out. It'll turn out, and hopefully he'll be OK because he's a great guy."
And the bad luck has already begun once again...
More importantly, hopefully he comes out of it okay without any permanent damage that will affect his normal life.