Prep Baseball

Despite seizures, Cedar Rapids Xavier catcher Garrett Ries plays on

South Dakota State commit and No. 1-ranked Saints open state tournament Tuesday against ADM

Cedar Rapids Xavier catcher Garrett Ries has contined to play this season while experiencing seizures. Photographed at Xavier High School on Friday, July 26, 2019. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)
Cedar Rapids Xavier catcher Garrett Ries has contined to play this season while experiencing seizures. Photographed at Xavier High School on Friday, July 26, 2019. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)
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CEDAR RAPIDS — Garrett Ries made a baseball career of being in control.

The steady and reliable senior has been in command of many Cedar Rapids Xavier games since his sophomore season, directing the defense and guiding the pitching staff.

This season, however, Ries has had to manage something much different than pitch counts and strategy. Since February, the all-Mississippi Valley Conference performer has battled seizures without answers to why or how to treat them.

“When I’m out here I don’t think about anything but the team and just trying to have the most fun that I can,” Ries said. “If something were to happen during a game, I have a great team and parents to help so I’m never too worried about anything happening during baseball.

“If it were to happen, it’s something I just have to deal with.”

Ries played all but one game and helped lead top-ranked Xavier to its seventh state baseball tournament appearance and first since 2013. The Saints (38-2) play Adel ADM (13-17) in a Class 3A state quarterfinal Tuesday at Principal Park, beginning at 11 a.m.

The South Dakota State commit expanded his role, playing some second base and earning all-conference honors this year at first. He leads Xavier with a .529 on-base percentage and six home runs. His .392 batting average and 36 RBIs are second on the team and he is tied for second with 40 hits.

“He’s had a really big-time senior season,” Xavier Coach Dan Halter said. “To be able to handle everything, we’ve tried to work with him a little bit to manage workload with him. We’ve gotten help from Nick Banowetz being able to step up at catcher for us. We’ve been able to put Garrett in less taxing positions.”

Ries experienced some sleep issues in the past, but had no history of seizures, according to his mother, Kate Ries. The first came Saturday night of the state wrestling tournament here in Des Moines.

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Ries returned to his seat from the concession stand before the heavyweight finals and suffered his first grand mal seizure in the crowd.

“It was more out of the blue,” said Ries, who had a second seizure while out to eat with his girlfriend. “I’ve had a lot of absent seizures. I’ve just blacked out and have been completely out of it. People tried to talk to me and I just wasn’t responding to anything they’ve said. I don’t remember anything about those things.”

Kate Ries was shocked when she received the news that her son was transported to the hospital. She thought it was a prank at first and then reality hit. She drove through a massive snowstorm to get to Garrett, who was released that same night.

“We freaked out a little bit,” Kate Ries said. “We realized we need to get it figured out.”

Doctor appointments started, but haven’t been accompanied with answers. Ries has made two trips to the Mayo Clinic, but tests have not been able to identify a cause. He said they even said a second seizure was unlikely. Ries will undergo a sleep test soon, hoping that can shed some light on the source.

“It’s been hard for him,” Kate Ries said. “He was hoping they would come back and say, ‘this is what it is and this is what you do.’ We haven’t got that yet.”

Ries has relied on his family, which consists of Kate, his father, Gene, and two sisters. He said his mom has taken him to numerous appointments and his sisters are there to help when needed.

“They have been outstanding,” Ries said. “The team, coaches and my parents have been very important for me. They’ve helped me every step of the way.”

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Absence, or petit mal, seizures cause people to blank out or stare into space, according to Johns Hopkins medicine online. They have been more frequent for Ries, occurring before, during and after some games.

In one case, he had one during batting practice and finally responded in the dugout, unable to recall what had happened. Ries removed himself from Xavier’s Senior Night game when he began to feel abnormal.

“I just get tired (and) it sets my mind completely blank,” Ries said. “I’ll go talk to the guys and it will start to rebuild everything back up again.”

Xavier coaches have worked with the family. It has helped that Ries has been able to play other positions and cut down on the daily grind as a catcher.

The situation is hard to treat without a specific cause, but the Ries family has researched ways to limit the effects. Hydration and nutrition are important. Proper rest is necessary as well.

“He has to be able to handle all that on his own away from here,” Halter said. “Credit goes to him and his family for managing all that.”

The Saints have provided a lot of support and assistance. Ries cannot drive, so friend and teammate, Braden Albert, drives him to practice and games. The pair enjoy the outdoors and Albert witnessed an absence seizure where Ries was excited for catching a fish and released it before turning quiet.

“It’s definitely hard to go through, you can tell,” Albert said. “Just not knowing when it’s going to come up for him.

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“We’ll be out enjoying a fishing day and it happens to him. It’s a little scary.”

Ries has demonstrated strength and maturity, playing at a high level despite the medical condition.

“He’s handled it very well,” Albert said. “Obviously, it’s something tough to go through. It just shows how strong he is and how he has persevered.”

Ries signed with SDSU and he had to update the Jackrabbits staff. They have remained in contact, asking how things are and if he is OK.

“They said hopefully we can figure it out before I come up,” Ries said. “If not, they have people up there who can help, hopefully. It will all be OK up there. It’s not a big problem at all.”

Quitting baseball was never a serious consideration. He wanted to be a part of a program poised to do something special this season. The Saints have set a program record in victories and have been ranked first since the first regular-season poll.

He wanted a chance to play on this stage Tuesday.

“There have been way too many good memories here that I haven’t wanted to leave,” Ries said. “Yeah, there might have been times I needed to figure out medical stuff and miss a practice, but I never wanted to leave anyone on this team.”

l Comments: (319) 368-8679; kj.pilcher@thegazette.com

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