MILWAUKEE -- Bob Uecker is the first to admit that he lives and dies baseball. But, as he was so starkly reminded by undergoing two serious heart operations in 2010, the game itself is not life and death.
"The doctors said they didn't want to do it a third time," said the Milwaukee Brewers' Hall of Fame radio voice. "In this case, it's three strikes and you're really out."
Uecker, who celebrated his 76th birthday a few days back, is looking forward to a much brighter 2011, both on the personal health front and the Brewers' fortunes on the field.
"I'm excited about it; I really am," said Uecker, who has spent most of the winter at his second home in Scottsdale, Ariz. "I think the Brewers are looking pretty good."
Like many of the team's fans, Uecker was re-energized by the team's off-season acquisitions of starting pitchers Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum. Starting pitching had been the team's primary weakness over the past two seasons, knocking them out of the NL Central race in 2010 before the end of May.
"As always, everything hinges on what happens on the field, but it's looking pretty good," Uecker said in a telephone interview. "The Greinke thing looks really good. From what I've heard about him, he's the real deal.
"Offense hasn't been a problem for us. Now, with this pitching staff, I think they've put the team in a spot where we can be competitive."
No matter how bad it got on the field last season, Uecker would have rather been in the radio booth than dealing with his serious heart issues. Shortly after the season began, he revealed that he needed open-heart surgery to repair a leaking aortic valve as well as an enlarged aorta.
The original plan after the late-April surgery was for Uecker to resume calling games in two to three months. "Mr. Baseball" met that schedule, returning to the booth in July, first doing home games and later hitting the road again.
But Uecker had anything but a smooth recovery. A staph infection resulted in a tear forming at the site of the valve replacement, forcing a second operation at Froedtert Hospital in October. It was a much more serious situation than Uecker or the doctors let on publicly, potentially life-threatening.
Already having lost considerable weight, Uecker was forced to take it easy for several weeks after the second procedure.
"If it hadn't been for that staph infection, everything would have been great," said Uecker, who recently was cleared to resume swimming, one of his favorite activities.
"I was feeling good until that happened. It's a tough thing to get rid of. It wasn't much fun, that's for sure. Now, other than my chest being a little sore, I'm doing pretty good."
As for sitting out nearly half the season, Uecker said, "You really miss it when you don't do it. It's what I love. I felt bad about missing all of those games. I'm looking forward to getting back to work and just doing baseball again."
Then, displaying his trademark humor, Uecker added, "Who knows? I might come back and be a babbling idiot.
"Seriously, I'll know when it's time to quit. Nobody will have to tell me. I'm not going to embarrass myself. One thing I really appreciate is all of the support I've gotten from the fans."
Uecker stays in touch with Mark Attanasio and recently spent time with the team's principal owner at the Professional Baseball Scouts Foundation in Los Angeles. Uecker said Attanasio, too, has high hopes for the 2011 edition of the Brewers.
"He has started a new business and is busier than hell, but he's pumped up about what they've done," said Uecker, who will travel with Attanasio to Milwaukee for "Brewers On Deck." "The first few years he was mostly a fan, but he's more than a fan now. He's looking for bigger and better things.
"There's more on the line now. He has put a lot of money into it, and he expects results. I don't blame him."
Uecker also spent time at that dinner with new Brewers manager Ron Roenicke and came away impressed.
"I like the guy," said Uecker. "He's all fired up to go. There's a lot of new things, the manager being No. 1. But you need to go out and win.
"I don't want to put all of the rap on the pitchers because there were times when we didn't score runs, either. But pitching is the bottom line. The Giants showed that when they won the World Series."
Uecker offered that his spirits are high, and why not? He moved past his staph infection at the same time that the Brewers addressed their (pitching) staff infection.
"I'm excited about coming back to work," he said. "I think it's going to be a good year. I'm ready to rock and roll."