Guest at Pittsburgh Pirates Spring Training Suffers Cardiac Arrest

A guest attending Pittsburgh Pirates spring training in Florida required medical attention on Tuesday after suffering cardiac arrest while catching fly balls on a practice field, according to the Associated Press. The team says the guest was fielding fly balls at the spring training complex when he had "a medical event" that required attention. The man was part of the group led by Jacki Dezelski, president and CEO of the Manatee Chamber of Commerce in Bradenton, Florida. Dezelski said the man suffered cardiac arrest and was alert and talking following a procedure. 

"He's doing great, just come out of a procedure," Dezelski told AP. "His wife is back with him now. He's alert and talking, as he was in the ambulance. He was fully alert. ... I guess in some ways, outside of a hospital, he was in the best place he could be to have this happen because he received such immediate medical attention."

Pirates manager Derek Shelton showed praise to the medical staff for saving the man's life. "They did an unbelievable job," Shelton told reporters. "... Our whole medical staff really jumped into action very quickly. We're really fortunate we have that group of people in a scary incident they were on top of right away."   

According to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, the man's name is Ernie Withers and he's 68 years old. His daughter, Lisa Heath, told the Tribune-Review her father was shocked twice and unconscious for two minutes. "He wanted to say how thankful he is for the medical staff and training staff. If it wasn't for them, he wouldn't be alive because they saved his life," Heath said. "Everybody did a phenomenal job. Because of their quick response, it doesn't appear he has any neurological issues. They saved his life 100%. We are beyond grateful."

Heath went on to say that his father was invited to participate in practice because he serves as Manatee Chamber of Commerce chair during the season when MLB restricted fans from games because of the COVID-19 pandemic, so he couldn't throw out a first pitch at a spring training game at LECOM Park. The incident happened at 11 a.m. local time on Tuesday. The team stopped practice and players dropped to a knee or squatted in silence. When Withers was taken away on a stretcher, the players politely clapped and resumed practice at 11:50 a.m.