SANTA ANA, Calif. — An incredible comeback is unfolding before our eyes with 58-year-old Tim Kelly. One of the great pitching coaches of our time, he is making a dynamic recovery from a brain disorder which knocked him for a loop for nearly a decade.
Specialists don’t even have a name for what he has because it is so rare.
But they describe the condition as a “profound dysregulation of a major depressive disorder caused by unknown antagonists which can shut down the brain.”
Simply put, the disorder is caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain. Only 150 people in the United States suffer from it.
For 30 years, Kelly has been a pitching coach and scout.
He was the pitching coach for six years at Arizona State as the Sun Devils won the 1981 College World Series in his first season.
Kelly also worked at the highest levels in the scouting departments of the California Angels and Los Angeles Dodgers after his run at Arizona State.
This brilliant man, who once attended Stanford University and was the hottest pitching coach in the nation in the early 1980s for ASU under Head Coach Jim Brock, slowly lost function of his brain over a 7-year period.
It was so debilitating that he could not get out of bed for over a year as his brain essentially shut down.
Doctors he initially contacted were perplexed at his condition and had him try numerous drugs to stop the symptoms. But he only got worse.
In a last-ditch effort, his brain was shocked 18 different times with a procedure called electroconvulsive therapy.
With ECT, an electric current is briefly applied through the scalp to the brain, inducing a seizure as the patient is under general anesthesia.
While doctors said everything would be fine with such drastic treatments, his short term memory has been damaged.
This 10-year torture chamber of hell finally ended when specialists had Kelly try experimental drugs which finally ended in a cure.
How It All Began
“It’s hard to say exactly when I started being affected by this condition, because it’s so subtle at the beginning,” said Kelly.
“Specialists ultimately told me that certain chemicals regulate our brain function as they maintain an equilibrium. From time to time with some people such as me, one chemical will begin to obliterate the others, and the other chemicals stop being produced. So very slowly, your brain becomes less functional and over time starts to shut down.”
Kelly said that the beginning of his problems started as early as 1985. But it took seven years before he realized something serious was happening to his brain as he was working with the Dodgers.
“As I was traveling in my scouting role and working, I just wasn’t feeling that great, but I figured I was tired. I passed it off as the usual stuff.
“As the days went on, this tired feeling became worse and worse. I didn’t want to do anything. And as I watched baseball games in a scouting position, all of a sudden I felt that something was seriously wrong because I felt so abnormal. I wasn’t seeing things like I should or interpreting everything as I had.
“All of this took place over a 4-year period of gradual deterioration from about 2002-2006.
“Finally my wife Debbie told me that there was something wrong with me, and I had to go to the doctor. So I went, and I was told normal depression could be the answer. They tried every medication that they thought would work, but nothing helped.
“I kept getting worse. Every morning people get out of bed whether they want to or not. With this affliction, I wasn’t able to get out of bed like a normal person, take a shower or do anything.
“I was bedridden for about a year and a half. And during that period, because your brain is so different than it normally is, you don’t even have a reason to speak.
“Your brain is shutting down, and you have no idea what is happening. Frankly, it was frightening. You are essentially becoming a vegetable and a prisoner of your own mind.”
Potential Deadly Outcome
Kelly said his wife asked the doctor what the worst case scenario of his condition was.
“He told her that people generally blow their brains out because the quality of life ceases to exist. He was being honest, but it really didn’t help the situation. I’m sure that was the last thing she wanted to hear.
“What you take for granted, such as getting up, having a drink of water, or looking forward to watching a TV show, evaporated for me.
“There was nothing in my brain that pushed me to do these things any more.
“When I became educated about my condition, I realized that the first signs of this were happening in 1985. But at that time, you chalk it up to working hard because I never took any time off from baseball. This malady is hidden behind things. But it got worse and worse.”
Kelly said his last year with the Dodgers was in 2006, and it was extremely difficult on him.
“Things were so bad that I had a difficult time functioning. But I didn’t want to let my boss Logan White (Scouting Director of the Dodgers) down and others in the Dodger organization as well.
“So I continued to work knowing I couldn’t do my job because I didn’t know what I was doing any more as my brain was shutting down. I told Logan that I must have a tumor in my brain which is causing all of my problems. I shouldn’t have done that. I simply should have told him I have no idea what is happening.
“At that point, you are also becoming irrational with your thinking. I knew I had to have a job to feed my family. So until I could find out what was wrong and straighten myself out, I had to buy time. I couldn’t bring myself to say ‘I couldn’t work.’ ”
Kelly’s contract with the Dodgers wasn’t renewed, and life got much darker for him and his family.
The story of Tim Kelly is a two-part article. The first article (Feb. 7, 2014 edition) delves into his illness, how it affected his family, what doctors did to help him recover and his life today as a volunteer pitching coach at Santa Ana College. The second article (Feb. 21, 2014) covers the innovative pitching program he developed that helped Arizona State win the 1981 College World Series. The program is similar to the pitching program currently being used by Mississippi State’s pitching coach Butch Thompson. His program also is outlined in the Feb. 21, 2014 edition.
To order both of these Collegiate Baseball issues, CLICK HERE.