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MILWAUKEE -- Some of Bob Uecker's closest friends have known for months that he's been battling heart trouble. But when it became public on Tuesday that Uecker would undergo surgery and miss as much as three months of baseball, the well-wishes started really pouring in.
"From around the world, really," an appreciative Uecker said. "It's really something."
Uecker will have surgery Friday morning to replace his aortic valve and remove a portion of his enlarged aorta. His doctor described the procedures as "a commonly done operation," but it could sideline the 75-year-old for up to three months.
He will have plenty of people around the game pulling for a speedy recovery.
"I've been talking with Bob regularly and knew this was coming, but I'm just as worried as everybody else is," said Braves broadcaster Jim Powell, Uecker's on-air partner from 1996-2008. "I know this: 'Ueck' has overcome big hurdles his whole life, and I fully expect this to be just another one he clears. My guess is that he will use the experience as a source of a lot more trademark laughs after he's recovered.
"I'll be among the legions who are praying for him before, during and after the surgery. I expect my friend to be back in the booth calling games sooner than you think, [and] I'll be looking forward to going to see him in a couple of weeks when the Braves come to Milwaukee."
Uecker's current on-air partner, Cory Provus, will handle all play-by-play duties in Uecker's absence. Fox Sports Wisconsin's Davey Nelson will provide color commentary on the team's upcoming West Coast road trip, and the Brewers will evaluate their options after that.
Whatever the decision, Uecker won't be on the trip to Minneapolis next month for an Interleague series against the Twins. That was bad news to longtime Twins broadcaster John Gordon.
"This is a setback for him of course and for all of us," Gordon said. "Hopefully, he'll be OK."
"I just think he's one of the true characters of the game," said Rangers president Nolan Ryan, who notched his 300th career win at Milwaukee County Stadium in 1990 with Uecker behind the mic. "If I'm driving somewhere and the Rangers aren't on, I'll turn on his broadcasts and listen to him because I enjoy him. He looks at the game a little different than other people."
Uecker has called some big moments along the way, from Hank Aaron's final home run in 1976, to the Brewers' American League Championship in '82, to Paul Molitor's 39-game hitting streak in '87, to Robin Yount's 3,000th hit in '92. His most recent iconic call came on the final day of the 2008 regular season, when Ryan Braun hit a go-ahead homer and CC Sabathia worked a complete game to push the Brewers into the postseason.
That win gave Uecker a chance to call a Brewers playoff game for the first time since the 1982 World Series.
"My thoughts and prayers go out to him," said Sabathia, now the New York Yankees' ace. "I was only there for a couple of months, but every time he was around, he was real talkative -- just a funny guy. I can remember he was always talking about fishing and how he loved to do it on his days off. He's cool. He's a good dude."
"He's kind of like a grandpa to me," said Twins shortstop J.J. Hardy, who was raised in Milwaukee's farm system before a five-year run with the Brewers. "He's treated me that way, and I guess you could kind of say we're friends more than co-workers. But we have a pretty good relationship. It's tough [to hear about his health]. He's got that personality that everybody loves."
They love him at Miller Park, where a group of Brewers players packed into an already crowded news conference for a show of support to the radio play-by-play man who calls their successes with the same energy he brought to the booth back in 1971, and their failures with the understanding of a career .200 hitter.
Trevor Hoffman, Prince Fielder, Rickie Weeks, Jim Edmonds, Casey McGehee, manager Ken Macha and Milwaukee's own Craig Counsell stood quietly in the corner while Uecker answered about 20 minutes of questions.
"We're concerned," Counsell said. "He's just one of the guys, so every time you take someone out of that, you miss him. He swims every morning and I'm kind of an early riser, so from time to time on the road, we'll meet and have breakfast together. Just sitting with him and listening to him tell stories, that's something everyone should experience."
Counsell used to listen to Uecker on the radio, just like the rest of Wisconsin. Counsell was born in Indiana, but grew up in the Milwaukee suburb of Whitefish Bay.
"My memories were listening to him, like a lot of people, on a summer night outside the house while we played baseball until it got dark," Counsell said. "I remember listening to him in my front yard for sure."
Ditto for Pirates reliever Jack Taschner, who grew up just south of Milwaukee in Racine.
"Games here weren't on TV as much as they are now, so everybody listened to Uecker," Taschner said. "I'd ride my bike to my grandfather's house in Milwaukee and cut his lawn, and he'd sit out on the deck listening to Bob Uecker. My other grandfather, I'd go to his house, and the game is on and we're listening to Uecker.
"You have a lot of people in different parts of the country that talk about someone being a voice. But Uecker has been here from the beginning. He is
the Brewers. Obviously, I hope the best for him. He is everything to baseball in Milwaukee. Bud Selig saved the team, but Bob Uecker is the voice."
Said Counsell: "Baseball is every day, and he becomes part of your summer. It's going to be like one of your friends is gone."
But only for a short time. The doctors expect Uecker to be back in the broadcast booth by August.
Until a few years ago, Fielder didn't know Uecker had a spot in a "real" broadcast booth at all. Fielder knew Uecker from his turn as Harry Doyle in the Major League
series of films. He didn't know that Uecker was the Brewers' longtime radio man until 2002, when Milwaukee made Fielder its first-round Draft pick. In the years since, the men have become very close.
"It's unfortunate, but he's had a good spirit about it," Fielder said. "No matter what, he's always a happy person. He has a good aura about him. Whenever he's around, it's a good time."
Fielder, Counsell and every other Brewer said the same thing about Uecker: "He's part of the team."
"That's the way they treat me," Uecker said. "They're concerned, I know they are. So am I."